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Closure of Philippine media giant causes gaps in disaster preparedness, say Catholic priests

Communities in remote areas rely on free TV in getting information, especially visual information, about a typhoon or a calamity

The shutdown of the Philippines’ largest media network has affected information dissemination, which is crucial in disaster preparedness and response, according to several members of the Catholic clergy in the country.

Father Rex Paul Arjona, director of the social action center of the Diocese of Legazpi, said the absence of media giant ABS-CBN and its regional network on free television “has affected how far-flung communities prepare for a disaster.”

The Diocese of Legazpi in Albay province, south of Manila, was one of the hardest hit by super typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni) early this week.




The priest said communities in remote areas rely on free TV in getting information, “especially visual information or moving pictures,” about a typhoon or a calamity.

“There was only one network that is capable of that reach,” said Father Arjona. “But after the closure of ABS-CBN, communities in far-flung areas were left blinded to visual information.”

He underscored the importance of “visuals and comprehensive reporting” on how communities prepare for a disaster, saying that people in rural areas are “accustomed to this.”

“And for many years, it was ABS-CBN that provided that kind of service that helped communities in when and where to flee,” he said.

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In August, ABS-CBN announced the shutdown of its 21 regional stations, including one in the Bicol region, following the denial of its franchise renewal in May.

The priest said during disasters people in Albay monitor the track of a typhoon and get crucial information through the network’s local news channel.

“With the closure of ABS-CBN Bicol, many of the communities in remote areas have to rely on the internet and other local news sources for information,” he said.

The priest, however, said that local radio and television networks “are still struggling to fill the gap” in information dissemination and 24/7 coverage after ABS-CBN’s closure.

Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III, media director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told LiCAS.news that the closure of ABS-CBN has “denied the Filipino poor of crucial information during disasters.”

“This is not just an opinion from me. We have seen and heard these sentiments during the onslaught of some typhoons in the country in the past several months,” he said.

The priest admitted that he has “no idea on how the government will fill the gap” in information dissemination after it denied the franchise of the country’s largest network.

“Let us admit it. There is no other media network, not even the government-run media entity or the Church’s media groups that can do what ABS-CBN had been doing,” he said.

ABS-CBN had more than 70 radio and television channels across the country.

In Paracale town, Camarines Norte province, Jake Velez decided to evacuate his family from the seashore on the evening of October 31 “when town officials came to warn us.”

“I haven’t switched on my television set since ABS-CBN Bicol gone off the air. It was the only channel available here. I listened to the radio but I can’t visualize how big the typhoon was,” he said.

ABS-CBN’s regional radio and TV channels have been essential to locals for “it used to report the local situation that people here can relate to,” said Rhodora Clacio, head of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office in Vinzons town, Camarines Norte province.

Clacio said her office follows the “Incident Command System” of the country’s disaster risk reduction and management coordinating council in disseminating and gathering information.

“But it is for reporting official government data. In terms of monitoring, media coverage helps us a lot especially in convincing people in high-risk areas to act urgently,” she said.

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