The glaring consequences of ABS-CBN’s shutdown seem to have manifested in the past few weeks as recent calamities hammered their way through communities in many parts of the country, especially in Bicol and Northern Luzon. As the most expansive news network in those regions is no longer operating, the task to disseminate life-saving information to far-flung communities has been harder than ever.
The recent streak of typhoons—Quinta, Rolly, Siony, Tonyo, Ulysses—has left an inordinately large amount of damage and has caused unbearable suffering to many families and individuals affected. Typhoons Quinta and Ulysses, and Super Typhoon Rolly, are undoubtedly the most destructive of the last 5 storms that hit the country, but Ulysses seems to leave the most dreadful impression among Filipinos, as an Ondoy-like destruction was left in its wake.
It is important to understand why Ulysses, in spite of being weaker than Rolly, seems to have inflicted more destruction than the previous storms. Aside from the fact that typhoons before it, already filled dams up to their critical level, the large volume of water Ulysses dropped over Luzon in just 24 hours, was equivalent to a one-month worth of rain. Vulnerable mountains were also saturated with rainwater, which made communities around them more prone to landslides. As dams released excess waters from reservoirs, the already-flooded communities in Central and Northern Luzon, and even the National Capital Region, received flooding deemed by many citizens to be worst in years.
Vulnerable Communities Cut-Off from Credible News Source
As many far-flung communities that previously relied on the services of ABS-CBN were practically left uninformed of the impending disasters, citizens were caught unprepared and were unable to evacuate to safe places before the onslaught of recent typhoons. In Catanduanes, where Super Typhoon Rolly made its first landfall, the destruction was horrifyingly massive, with electric and telecommunication services almost completely shut. In Northern Luzon, the inability of many people in Isabela and Cagayan to be reached by authorities’ announcements on the release of excess waters in Magat Dam, caused them to be relaxed and unaware of the much worse inundation that would sink the many parts of the region.
It can be recalled that three ABS-CBN stations (Santiago, Aparri, Tuguegarao) used to serve the Cagayan Valley, with TV Patrol North Luzon, the largest newscast to deliver the local news in the region. Before and during the violent assault of the last five typhoons in Bicol and Cagayan Valley regions, many netizens pointed out what the presence of ABS-CBN News’ extensive and comprehensive news-gathering team could have done to prepare highly-susceptible areas, as many of them have almost solely relied on the now franchise-less broadcast giant, as their primary source of news and information. In Bicol, at least seven ABS-CBN stations used to serve the entire region, with TV Patrol Bicol providing the region updates on local events. ABS-CBN News’ extensive news-gathering operation in the region also fed TV Patrol Manila with the most relevant news and information in Bicol, for the whole nation to see. The absence of these news institutions in Bicol and Cagayan Valley seems to have largely contributed to the lack of preparation among affected residents.
The Role of Media in Saving Lives
The role of media in saving lives can never be overstated. Free-flowing information has always been deemed essential in reducing life-threatening risks and sparing countless lives from being claimed by destructive natural and man-made disasters. It is through freedom of information that many lives are saved, but as reliable news agencies like ABS-CBN are being forced to shut down, the danger of not knowing the right information on the heels of an incoming disaster has never been clear and glaring. Also, as the covid pandemic persists, news personnel based outside the affected regions are being required by local government units to undergo quarantine measures, thereby delaying the real-time exchange of information between the affected people and response groups.
Response Groups Struggle to Reach Affected Communities at Earliest Time Possible
While social media has always been a useful tool in information-dissemination and spreading awareness among vulnerable communities, the role of a news organization in promoting preparedness is regarded among the most necessary factors in saving as many lives as possible. The presence of a local ABS-CBN News team could have made the flow of information between Cagayan Valley and Manila run more smoothly and could have prompted authorities and response groups to act at the earliest time permitted. As telecommunication lines in most areas affected remain downed, critical information from areas needing immediate attention remain inaccessible, making it hard for authorities and concerned response teams to assess the type of aid and the amount of help they can provide for the affected families and individuals.
The recent calamities have undoubtedly exposed the glaring consequences of ABS-CBN’s forced shutdown. While many authorities remain adamant to accept such truth and as other media organizations and the government itself continue to fail to fill in the gap that the absence of ABS-CBN left, the same regions and many other parts of the country remain threatened by the disastrous onslaught of incoming typhoons and other disasters that may inevitably strike the country. It is for those in power to act before it is too late.