The Philippine Center of International PEN has issued a statement denouncing the closure of ABS-CBN, ignoring the position of its founder, National Artist F. Sionil Jose, who wrote a “requiem” for the country’s largest media network and said it was time to dismantle the oligarchs who own it.

“The silencing of ABS-CBN constitutes an unjust and deafening blow to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and sends a chilling effect across all other news and media platforms, broadcast services, and platforms in the Philippines,” the Philippine PEN said.

“The action is particularly grave and insensitive in light of the current global pandemic that is threatening the lives of millions of Filipinos, a crucial time when all media channels play a crucial role in delivering critical news and guidance to the public,” it added.

Sionil Jose, 95, is a widely translated Filipino author in English, famous for his essays that reflect his nationalist and anti-elite views, and his novels, such as the five-volume Rosales Saga that spanned Philippine colonial and modern history. He was once touted as the Philippines’ best bet for the Nobel literature prize.

On May 8, Sionil Jose cheered the widely condemned shutdown of ABS-CBN, arguing that it did not benefit Filipinos and was used by the Lopez family to promote their political and business interests. He also accused the  patriarch Eugenio Lopez Sr. of maligning good people like Helena Benitez and the Lopezes of harboring “communists” such as historian Renato Constantino.

“The Lopezes played the double game; they were vociferously anti-American but were the beneficiaries of American largesse in the sugar quota gift from America. Their writers included liberals, fellow travelers and communists but Eugenio Lopez himself personified the lowest form of capitalism. The Filipinos do not really need ABS-CBN. It does not produce goods or food. It has certainly entertained millions but it did not diminish poverty. Again, freedom worked for the rich—but not for the Filipinos,” he wrote on Facebook.

ABS-CBN: A Requiem
by F. Sionil Jose

Way back when the Manila Chronicle was a major daily, its Sunday column, Inside…

Posted by F Sionil Jose on Thursday, May 7, 2020


Sionil Jose founded the Philippine PEN in 1958, gathering the country’s writers and intellectuals. It is a member of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists), which has centers in some 150 countries.

Another National Artist for Literature, Bienvenido Lumbera, is the national chairman of the Philippine PEN. Charlson Ong is vice chairman and Lito Zulueta is the board secretary.

The board is composed of Elmer Ordoñez, Jose Wendell Capili, Hermie Beltan Jr., Karina Bolasco, Nicolas Pichay, Jun Cruz Reyes, Edgardo Maranan, Victor Peñaranda, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Ricardo Suarez Soler, Glenn Sevilla Mas, Kristian Cordero, and Santiago Villafania.

Among the first to disagree with Sionil Jose was Philippines Graphic Editor in Chief Joel Salud, who wrote in an open letter to his “Manong Frankie”:

One other thing: even if Duterte fashions himself as an enemy of oligarchs, isn’t it also true that he has a new set of oligarchs to replace the old? What makes Duterte and these oligarchs any different from the Lópezes whom you seem to despise?

Jose is no stranger to backlash. In 2015, he was accused of racism by Chinese Filipinos when he suggested that they were on the side of Beijing because they did not speak out against Chinese provocations in the South China Sea dispute.

On the issue of ABS-CBN’s closure, the Philippine PEN seems to have taken the counsel of a bigger literary titan, the late Nick Joaquin, who famously refused to accept his National Artist award if the Martial Law regime did not free writer Pete Lacaba. PEN itself stood against the Marcos dictatorship and spoke out against efforts to curb press freedom.

Joaquin, in a 1983 Philippine PEN conference speech titled “The Writer in the Climate of Fear,” said:

The proposition that literature is automatically free, because written in the light of eternity, while journalism is necessarily enslaved to the concerns of the moment—that proposition is false. And even if not false, still indefensible.


No more than other republics can the Republic of Letters exist half-slave and half-free. While his brothers in journalism are in thrall, the creative writer is himself not whole, not safe and not free.