By Rommel F. Lopez

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) has called on President Rodrigo Duterte, the Department of Labor and Employment and congressmen openly opposing the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN based on alleged labor violations of the network to resolve all labor issues in the media industry and not just nitpick on the beleaguered network.

In a statement, the NUJP called it “utterly hypocritical and shameless” for the likes of Representatives “Mike Defensor, Boying Remilla [sic], and Rodante Marcolete [sic] to posture as if they were champions of the oppressed and use the workers as pawns for their real agenda, which is to make sure ABS-CBN is denied a franchise and silenced, in compliance with their master’s wishes.”

The journalists’ union added that “shutting down an enterprise will never solve labor issues but merely add to the ranks of the unemployed” thus calling the entire labor issue investigation on ABS-CBN an “absolutely stupid charade”.

The NUJP stressed that “ABS-CBN has long been violating labor rights” and that other broadcast companies, including the government’s broadcast network and other news organizations in other platforms are “guilty as well” of violating labor laws.

It calls the persistent violation of labor rights the “elephant in the room for the community of journalists and media workers.”

“Only the blind will fail to see the many and continuing struggles of media workers, individually and collectively, for labor justice and a fair deal. To name just a few: the 2010 protest by workers of ABS-CBN’s own Internal Job Market who were laid off en masse after organizing themselves into the IJM Workers’ Union and calling for a certification election; the 2011 strike by workers of the Radio Mindanao Network in Davao City; and the fight of the Talents Association of GMA in 2015 for regularization and an end to contractualization.”

The NUJP underscored the government’s inability to address labor contractualization in the media industry under the “talent” system, now known as “independent contractors”.  This system, according to the NUJP, deprives media workers of security of tenure and mandated benefits like social security, medical benefits, hazard pay, PAG-IBIG Fund contributions, 13th-month pay, bonuses, etc. and of organizing and forming a union.

The journalists union also scored the Labor Department for going blind “or even abetted abuses of workers’ rights, not just in media but other industries as well” while singling out ABS-CBN.

“And lest we forget, was it not President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to ‘end endo,’ vetoed the security of tenure bill in July last year because, in his own words, ‘businesses should be allowed to determine whether they should outsource certain activities or not’?”

While supporting the ongoing discussion on media workers’ rights in the House of Representative, the NUJP stressed that these should not be used to violate “rights to justify the silencing of media and to stifle freedom of the press and of expression.”

Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, vice chairman of the House good government committee, said critics calling him for his “hypocrisy” for “posturing” as champions of labor rights  when they allegedly overlooked the same labor issues against previous broadcast franchise applicants is “excessive.”

“For people to say that we are out there for a permanent shutdown I think would be a little bit excessive… I’ve always been fair. There are problems and I’ve told Mr. [Carlo] Katigbak (ABS-CBN president and CEO) that there could be reforms that can be undertaken if and when the franchise is given,” Defensor said in an interview with ABS-CBN’s cable news channel ANC.

Defensor admitted that there are labor practices in the broadcast industry, and not just in ABS-CBN, that needs to be corrected.

“There are really conditions existing within ABS-CBN, and maybe the entire industry, that have to be corrected… I have friends in the stations, not necessarily media friends… The people there have been there for years and they’re still not regular until now,” he added.

He admitted that ABS-CBN is giving more than what the law required but says that some of these benefits might not be part of the employment package so as to afford regularizing workers under a contractual agreement.

“These are mandated by law benefits and to be fair ABS-CBN is giving more of what is required by law so there has to be a balance… the balance of giving these benefits and making some people regular is something we have to address,” Defensor said.