FREEDOM OF SPEECH

What died yesterday is not press freedom. The loss of TV Patrol hardly matters given that we all get our news from our Facebook or Viber echo chambers anyway, caring little whether the source was Inquirer, GMA, CNN, Manila Times or ObviouslyFakeNews.com. What we lost is a lot more tragic: the biggest pillar in a showbiz industry that has already fallen so far from its glory days.

Television has a long and glorious history in the Philippines, beginning with ABS in 1953, the first television broadcaster in ASEAN and the second in Asia. By the 1960s, the Philippines had six local channels all producing content: 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13. They produced classic television shows like Tawag ng Tanghalan, Gulong ng Palad, Student Canteen, and John en Marsha. We were also the third country in the world to produce color televisions via the company Radiowealth.


But Martial Law was not kind to our television screens. The stations were taken over by either the government or its cronies. Channel 5 was closed. Channel 4 was permanently nationalized, never to produce interesting content ever again. The government also tried to sequester Radiowealth, forcing its owner Domingo Guevara to flee in exile and thereby killing the company.


Yet the remaining broadcast companies soldiered on, creating unforgettable shows across all four networks. Channel 2 gave us Kuarta o Kahon, Lovingly Yours Helen. Channel 7 created Anna Liza, UFO and That’s Entertainment. Channel 9 had Eat Bulaga!, Champoy, Spin A Win, and Flordeluna. 13 gave us TODAS, Iskul Bukol and Chicks-to-Chicks. Filipino televiewers remained spoiled with all this choice.


The EDSA Revolution brought more hardships. While Channel 2 was returned to ABS-CBN, Channels 9 and 13 went into government ownership and a perpetual privatization plan. Almost overnight, the two stations deteriorated, providing hits once and in while, but mostly through foreign content like Marimar and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. The return of Channel 5 to private broadcast did not change much, and Filipinos were down to two stations: 2 and 7. Clearly, government intervention was never good for our TV industry.


The same decline occurred in our movie industry. At its peak in the 1980s, we were producing up to 300 films a year. By the 1990s, it was down to 200. Today, we are happy when we see 50 Filipino movies in a year – many of whom are independently made – meaning no one has a budget, no one makes money and nobody watches.


Yet throughout all this, ABS CBN continued to produce solid local programming for Filipino audiences here and abroad. Many of its teleseryes ended up being watched in Malaysia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea. Some of its programs, like Probinsyano, were so successful, that it single-handedly resurrected the careers of actors long forgotten. It also invested in digital TV and broadcast reach, in hopes of penetrating the farthest reaches of the nation and giving everyone entertainment for free. (Filipinos abroad are not as fortunate.)


This type of long-running showbiz success is not easy to replicate. TV5 has spent billions on people and programs, with very little to show for it. The Singapore government also subsidizes its entertainment industry in the millions. It’s not easy to export content, like South Korea, – and ABS CBN did that without government largesse.


Why does any of this really matter? Singapore is very rich despite a limited film industry. It’s important because there is only one alternative industry where an unemployed actor can go into to convert her fame into fortune: politics. Did you never see the correlation between our declining film and TV industry and the rise of actor politicians? Remember that for every Isko, we produce countless Estradas, Revillas and Lapids ad nauseum.


So to all our Congressmen, you have just reaped the whirlwind. Good luck to you in 2022.

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