A newsroom stunned: Inside ABS-CBN on the fateful day of decision

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“Magiging isa ka na sa jobless. Malungkot kasi minahal mo itong kumpanya na ito ng 24 years, tapos mawawala na lang ng ganun.” Photo by ANJO ALIMARIO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — A quiet newsroom welcomed us. Everyone was busy working and glued to their computers, after all, there were stories that needed to be chased and programs that needed to air. But the tension was palpable.

We joined the teams of BBC’s Howard Johnson and TV5’s Ryan Ang. I settled down and prepared for my 3 p.m. report.

We then saw ABS-CBN Integrated News chief Regina “Ging” Reyes going around the newsroom. All cameras were on her. Just four days ago, Reyes faced congressmen accusing her department of bias and irresponsible journalism.

She defended her people, pointing out they do strive to keep their biases in check.

Reyes could have easily ignored us and minded her own business. But she still approached us. “This is really not about us. We don’t want to be the story. We tell the story,” she said.

ABS-CBN Integrated News chief Regina “Ging” Reyes faces reporters. Photo by ANJO ALIMARIO

We were taught that as journalists we are not the story. But when the biggest network in the country is under siege, with more than 11,000 jobs on the line, it’s a story that Filipinos need to know.

“Salamat at dinadamayan nyo kami habang pinapakinggan at pinapanood namin kung ano ang magiging kapalaran ng aming kumpanya,” she added.

After facing us, she went back to her office.

We then met Mnemosynne Dalawis, a segment producer, who in the first few seconds of the interview began weeping. She’s afraid, she said.

“Magiging isa ka na sa jobless. Malungkot kasi minahal mo itong kumpanya na ito ng 24 years, tapos mawawala na lang ng ganun.”

A few days ago, Senator Bato dela Rosa advised ABS-CBN employees, in case the franchise was rejected, to just look for other jobs.

“Ang kapal ng mukha niya. Wala siyang awa, wala siyang empathy, wala siyang compassion para sa amin,” Dalawis said, trying to control her anger.

“Paano na ‘yung mga taong umaasa sa amin?”

My chest weighed a ton and my knees turned into jelly as I watched tears flowing from her eyes, knowing she may soon have no job. I wanted to hug her.

The vote

By 2 p.m., the House Committee on Legislative Franchises opened the proceedings. Everything still looked normal in the newsroom. Scripts were being edited, rundowns were being prepared.

But when Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, who was part of the three-member Technical Working Group, announced that they (except for Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo) recommended to disapprove the franchise application — some of the producers and writers stopped working and stood up. Their attention shifted to the ongoing hearing.

Then the committee chair moved for the voting whether to approve the resolution rejecting the franchise. While the votes were being counted, Peter Musngi and Henry Omaga-Diaz, who were anchoring the DZMM’s special coverage, wanted to know the names of congressmen who voted for or against ABS-CBN.

“Pangatawanan nila ang boto nila,” Omaga-Diaz said on air, while Musngi demanded an explanation for each vote cast.

As for those who would abstain: Musngi said, “Utang na loob, bakit kayo mag-aabstain sa simpleng pagpili…”

It took almost half an hour before Rep. Franz Alvarez announced the results: 70 voted yes, 11 voted no, 2 inhibited, and 1 abstained. It was over. ABS-CBN’s application for a fresh franchise was denied.

The newsroom was stunned. The only sound we could hear was the voice coming from the T.V. monitor. Many stood still, absorbing what just happened. The news sucked the energy out of the room.

“Pinatay na ang prangkisa, ang serbisyo ng ABS sa mamamayang Pilipino saan man sa mundo,” Henry Omaga-Diaz said on the decision. Photo by ANJO ALIMARIO

Laid on the table

“The resolution to deny ABS-CBN application is hereby adopted,” Rep. Alvarez said. Pursuant to Section 49 of the rules of the House of Representatives, all House bills and House resolutions relative to the grant or renewal of the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation are hereby laid on the table.”

Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado inquired about the meaning of “laid on the table.”

The committee secretary replied, “Parang, sir, ano sya, kill.”

Alvarez banged the gavel. The hearing adjourned.

Back in the newsroom, some were too shocked to even move and just continued watching Teleradyo as Musngi and Omaga-Diaz resumed anchoring. Others were checking their phones.

“Pinatay na ang prangkisa, ang serbisyo ng ABS sa mamamayang Pilipino saan man sa mundo,” Omaga-Diaz summarizing the vote and the effect of that vote.

Listening to those words, Doris Bigornia, known as Mutya ng Masa, broke down. Zen Hernandez consoled her as she shouted, “Love you, guys!” No one replied. But everyone in that room needed to hear that. It was an assurance that they’re all in this together.

Candles outside the ABS-CBN building in support of the network's plight to get a new franchise. Photo by ANJO ALIMARIO

Omaga-Diaz repeated on air, “Pinatay. Pinatay na ang prangkisa.”

That’s when Chiara Zambrano lost it. Zambrano, who braved disasters and wars, was in tears. The room was engulfed in sadness and pain.

My hands trembled as I continued recording what was going on. I felt embarrassed that I had to document one of the lowest points in their lives. I struggled to stay objective but as a journalist, I just had to remind myself that this was my way of telling the Filipino audience, how hard it was to lose the one thing you love.

And for the employees, ABS-CBN was their everything.

The coverage went on. Everyone went back to work, uncertain of what lies ahead.