July 17, 2020
Disclaimer: The recent news about ABS-CBN’s closure evoked mixed emotions among the Filipino people. In this article, we invited a guest contributor to share his story of how he witnessed God’s move in the company as a former employee of ABS-CBN. This article is the writer’s personal reflections based on his own experiences.
That day, hope died.
At least that’s what it felt like at the vigil of ABS-CBN employees and supporters in front of its compound on July 10.
On that day, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises rejected ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application, ending a beleaguered battle for its renewal that started in 2014.
Since the day I knew I wanted to tell stories, I also knew I wanted to work for ABS. I was amazed at how stories could bring families together, and how they could make the concerns of the world stop—even for a little while.
Later on, I realized through ABS the power of stories not just to entertain, but to influence people’s beliefs, worldviews, and ultimately, their lives.
This is the mission I signed up for when I joined the company in 2004. I started as a trainee writer for the network’s soap operas, which they coined as teleseryes. It was my dream job, and I expected it to run its course like a dream.
But after a year, I felt that the dream was a nightmare.
I had joined the company to tell stories, but all I could show for my hard work was failure, rejection, and sheer exhaustion. My body and mind could take it, but my soul was exhausted. It was at this point that I met God. There was no other way for my soul to live but through Him, and there was no other way to create but for my soul to be filled.
Instead of quitting, I found the willingness to stay. Instead of letting my job or even my passion to tell stories define who I was, I found my security in my identity as a child of God. He had other plans for me, and I stayed.
I stayed for 16 years. I grew from being a contributing writer into heading a creative team for several shows, until my contract ended in January of 2020. It wasn’t the most ideal exit. My mom passed away, and it was not easy to continuously write and not grieve the loss. I had a few issues with my bosses; I swung back and forth from resentment and guilt to forgiveness and restoration. I left. I gave myself a break from TV writing.
I had been 16 years in this place whose corridors, studios, editing bays, offices, conference rooms, and even staircases I eventually grew so familiar with that it was almost subconscious for me to move from one room to another.
But perhaps what mattered most was that this was where I was planted to serve and fulfill God’s call in my life for that season. And although it ended, it was and will always be home. A home I knew I could always go back to, that would never close down.
That was until that day when hope died.
At the request of my former bosses and colleagues, I showed up on July 10 to join the motorcade to Congress for a last plea to be heard. I had to support them in every way I could.
It was painful to watch the hearings in Congress. I won’t go into the legality of the issue because I am not a lawyer; nor will I attempt to criticize the government for its encroachment on press freedom, for I am not a journalist. I will not lecture on social justice and the role of media as the fourth estate, for I am not an academic.
I will only attempt to tell a story, for I am a writer. And with this story, I can only describe how frustrating, hurtful, and sometimes discouraging it was to hear the accusations thrown against a company I served and loved.
We parked our cars on the street in front of the tower whose frequency we were fighting for. There were makeshift signages taped on car windows, written in different colors, forms, and dialects—all asking for a “Yes” vote for the franchise’s renewal.
Ribbons of red, blue, and green adorned the vehicles. The ribbons danced in the wind as we drove and honked our way to Congress.
For a while, we stayed in front of Congress. We raised our signs. We waved our flags. We said our prayers. We hoped against hope for some good news.
Then we went back to the company compound and waited for the decision to be announced. We all got out of our cars and stood at a distance from each other.
We hadn’t seen each other in months.
In the past, meetings like this in front of the compound meant that we were on our way to taping a show.
On that day, however, instead of talking about presentations, story arcs, or scripts, we showed up wearing masks—with our elbows touching instead of hugs, and with silent looks of encouragement instead of boisterous laughs from our usual exchange of verbal jabs.
We stood there, socially distant but wanting to be close; fighting a sense of the impending dread that we hoped would not come.
But it did. With the announcement came the dread.
Everyone was silent as the decision was read. We were glued to our phones as we watched the livestream, the only sound you could hear.
Seventy congressmen voted to reject the renewal of the franchise; eleven voted to dismiss; two lawmakers abstained; and one inhibited.
Numbers that permanently stopped the company’s 65-year broadcast on that frequency.
Numbers that ended a hard-fought battle.
Numbers that doused our hope.
No one spoke for what seemed like a very long moment. People just stood there. Silent. Unable to come up with words.
No tears, no shouts of anger, no whispered assurances, no prayers even.
It’s as if the silence froze time.
No one looked at each other, because seeing sad eyes and meeting heartbroken looks would open a floodgate of emotions no one was willing to face.
Then, after what felt like an eternity, the voice of one of the more embattled employees boomed from the sound system:
“Galit na galit tayo sa desisyong ito! Pero hayaan nating ang galit na ‘to ang mag-udyok para patuloy tayong lumaban . . . para hindi tayo sumuko.”
And there it was. Anger.
Anger for what was perceived to be justice denied.
Anger from fighting a lost battle, for being wronged, for not being heard.
Anger for seeing our hope die and not knowing where to look for hope now.
For my friend who is a single mother and the sole breadwinner of her family, where would she bring her case now? Where can she find a job in this time where thousands, if not millions, of people are losing jobs and business opportunities?
For the trainee writer who had so much idealism that he could tell stories of his generation, that his voice would be heard and valued—who would listen to him now? How will he look at the future when his daily life is plagued with a pandemic that robs him of joy, faith, and even the capacity to dream?
For the driver of our service vehicle whose only concern then was to transport us from one taping location to another—he will now be retrenched along with so many others. How will he face his children when he tells them that he has to go out into the streets, risk getting infected, and cling to whatever raket is available just to put food on the table?
And for the viewer whose only available source of news about this virus is ABS-CBN, how can he be informed now? How will he know how to protect himself against the virus and against fake news?
Where do we draw hope now?
As I looked at my friends and colleagues, I felt their despair for justice. The great desire to be justified was palpable—to fight for the oppressed, to give hope to the hopeless, to uphold the common good, to find a judge infallible and righteous, yet kind and merciful.
Inasmuch as human systems have been set up for this, they will most likely fail or fall short, because human systems are that: human, broken, corrupt.
(Trigger Warning: The following paragraphs contain stories about depression and suicidal thoughts. Readers’ discretion is advised.)
But then I remembered what brought me to this vigil: It was a call from my former boss on the night of July 9; the same boss I had had differences with and who was partly the reason for my exit from the company.
I reached out to him while the hearings in Congress were being televised. He called me and said that the past few months had not been easy. There was so much anxiety that it led him to seriously consider ending his life.
The voice in his head was tormenting him, accusing him of being a failure, a nobody, worthless. The only relief he could see was suicide. I was so familiar with that feeling, those accusations. I heard them myself before I met Christ. But then, he heard a much gentler, softer voice telling him he had to live; that there is life in this world—a life worth fighting for.
That voice he recognized as Jesus. And he joined a church service online.
He called me to share his story because he knew how I had prayed for him and how a relationship with Jesus had saved me years ago.
The whole time, God was saying that He was and is faithful. He answers our prayers and reminds us that He remembers and is able to fulfill even the prayers we forget in the midst of our suffering and brokenness.
Much can be said about the hopelessness and suffering that we have to endure in these times, but we can only run to one person for justice.
There’s only one Man who has justified us so we can hope. The perfect Adam. Jesus Christ. And for everyone who believes in Him, hope will never die because hope is a person. He is our Lord.
The story of my former boss is just one of the many that speaks of how God works in the lives of the people in ABS-CBN. From prayer vigils, to countless Bible studies, to people being confronted with the truth that the path of the gospel is the only imaginable road.
The rains began to pour as the sun set and brought the night with it. People ran to their cars for shelter, hearts so heavy; the rain could not wash away their pain.
I drove home and prayed for each one of them that night . . .
That pain will lead them to seeking.
That anger will lead them to hearing.
That despair will bring forth openness.
That suffering will lead them to crying for a Savior.
That hopelessness will usher in the revelation of His Lordship.
That on the day their hope died, they will find Hope that endures.