By Maria Luisa “Bing” Ascalon as told to Hannah A. Papasin
I remember at that time (during the first shutdown) it was Martial Law. Of course during that time, most people (I hope) were against the Marcos regime. That was the second term (or so) of [President Ferdinand] Marcos. In 1972, when [President Marcos] declared Martial Law, I was working at Philippines Veterans Bank.
I only found out about the declaration at night.
At first, as a housewife, I was glad. My husband was the one with the media, along with Ramon Dela Luna. So as a housewife, I was glad because my husband will come home by 12 midnight. You know how they are with the media, especially those with the [Kapisanan ng mg Brodkaster Pilipinas].
I was happy on that aspect, but only on that aspect alone.
My family is anti-[dictatorship], so I imbued that value.
While I was still with the Veterans Bank, there was that newspaper called Malaya, which was underground, whose publication was not allowed. I kept it under the table, and when somebody else would come, I would print copies of it and give them out.
There were even some videos against the government, and we would be watching those too.
Until later on, I would go to seminars on Marcos dictatorship. When [Senator Benigno] Ninoy [Aquino] died in 1983, I didn’t believe at first, I was in disbelief. I found out later on that a lot of people also converged on the night Ninoy was killed.
One of these was a meeting in Room 10 [of La Salle Bacolod, now University of St. La Salle]. We were 21 all in all. I remembered Manong Johnny Hagad as one of the members as was Dr. Patricio Tan member. Our number grew, so from Room 10, we had to transfer our meetings to the LaSalle playground. Every 21st of the month, we would hold a rally.
It was funny because most of the [members] were housewives who knew nothing of activism until that time.
So there was the snap elections in 1986. There were those who did not want to join the election, and there were those who did.
I was with Pat Tan for [National Movement for Free Elections].
When ABS-CBN came back under Cory Aquino [in 1988] I was hired as the first station manager of Bacolod.
When I was still a student of [University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos], ABS-CBN was getting college students – young girls — to do live promo. I went to ABS-CBN because there was such an announcement, so I can remember what it looked like.
In 1972, when ABS-CBN was unceremoniously shut down [by Marcos], I passed the place and there was nothing there. There was really – nothing, just some squatters along Lacson Street. I remembered other people who worked there, like Ramon Dela Luna, who was supposed to be promoted to production chief. On the eve of his promotion, he treated people to a blow-out. He bought lechon for everyone as celebration, but that promotion did not push through because of the shutdown. He was really [pissed]; how can be pay for that lechon since his promotion didn’t push through?
I remembered there was no public support or outcry at that time because the people were scared.
People were afraid, except for a few people in UNO-R. It was only after Ninoy Aquino died that the people were finally emboldened. Same with Rizal’s books, which opened the eyes of the people during his time. With Ninoy’s murder, you had more courage to speak out.
You cannot speak out before that, you cannot show outward sign of outrage, because you were scared plus there was this law against rumor-mongering.
When ABS-CBN reopened I 1988, they called me, and then I went to their Benpres building. Actually, it was Geny Lopez, plus Jake Almeda Lopez, and Gaby [Lopez] who was also there, who interviewed me.
[Geny] was the one who interviewed me, about the NAMFREL, the Group of 21, and that sort of opened to up my being able to get in because of my background.
I also had letters from [Negros Occidental Gov. Daniel] “Bitay Lacson”, Oscar Lopez, and Oscar Hilado, who was a good friend of Geny Lopez. There were others who were interviewed, not just me.
I had no background in television but I had one in radio. The only time I was with TV was when I was with Ninfa Leonardia in her [program] Sugar and Spice. But I told them that wherever you are, management is still the same. For me, integrity is the most important thing. So I think that clinched it.
They asked me: Can you report right away? I told them I cannot, because I was still with another company, and that I need to tell my old company to give me 15 days.
I think that impressed them more.
June 28, 1988. We opened on his birthday. The secretary at that time was Jonali Dionzon. The office was really broken down; there were a lot of termites, and there was no furniture except for a solitary high chair that was also broken.
We started getting applications from people. We started with news.
When I started – remember that media was corrupted by Marcos. So that was my guideline on how to operate.
Geny came up with June 2 letter sent to everybody: to the mayors, governors, the BIR.
The letter read:
When Martial Law was delared in 1972, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation was nineteen years old. In that time span, the corporation had already made its mark, endeavoring to maintain the highest ethical and operating standards.
As we all know, the network went off the air when it was taken over during Martial Law regime. Sixteen years later, after regaining the airwaves following the February 1986 Revolution, we are seeking to establish ourselves again as a socially responsible network as well as a competitive force. Current surveys indicate we are regaining that position.
ABS-CBN continues to be committed to the welfare of our people. Public service remains our primary concern.
However, we have disturbing reports that there are efforts to encroach on media’s credibility and independence. These have been made and continue to be made by groups identified with both government and private organizations, apparently to compromise press, radio, and TV news coverage teams with offers of monetary remuneration in exchange for media exposure and bias.
It is our opinion that this practice, which is commonly referred to as “envelopmental journalism” is both degrading and immoral to say the least.
ABS-CBN would like to help eradicate this pernicious and unwholesome practice in the industry. We feel that we must being by “cleaning our own house first”.
Therefore, we have initiated a strict policy that any employee found guilty of accepting any monetary consideration that would compromise new and media exposure will be summarily dismissed. Also, the identity of any party attempting to violate our policy will be revealed to our viewer and listener.
We will, however, continue to report or broadcast any story that will stand on its merit being newsworthy. This will continue to be done impartially and without compromising our integrity whatsoever.
We seek your assistance in the attainment of our objective. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.
Very truly yours,
ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation
Eugenio Lopez, Jr.
This letter was served to warn them already.
In one of our management meetings, there was an attempt to change the motto “In Service to the Fillipino” to something else, and he refused. Because that is what we are here for. “In Service of the Filipino people”.
There were some changes, “In service to Filipino – wherever you may be” or “worldwide”. Wherever you are, we are at your service.
He would also not tell us whom to vote during elections.
Not even Gaby for that matter; we are free to vote according to our own conscience.
Gaby also followed the same principle; never impose. In fact, from the staff, 90 percent voted for [President] Duterte. They changed their profile pictures in Facebook to that of Duterte. But Gaby never did not impose anything in that matter.
Geny jist comes up sometimes, like when Danding ran for president, and he offered the DYRL land, sa KBP. And I refused. I was one of the few who did.
I said, we will compromise our judgment, and I was very vehement against it. The KBP head called my attention. Geny Lopez heard about it. And he approved that I stood my ground.
The first team that I had was Micon Prudencio, Harold Limbo, Agnes Lira-Jundos, Leilani Salem.
We had no equipment of our own, so we were borrowing from people. The programs we came up with were TV Patrol, and the coverage of the MassKara celebration. That was the first. I think it was the 50th Anniversary of the Charter Day of Bacolod, so it was Bacolod’s Golden Year. December 12, 1988 was the first time that TV Patrol aired.
It was meant to be.
I was so proud of my news team. In fact, I cried one time when one of my cameramen was given money by [Senator Juan Ponce] Enrile. What we did was to give it to the foundation instead, donated it to ABS-CBN Foundation. We really say no to envelopmental journalism.
We started from from scratch.
They were quite few in number but they were a great team. They had no off days, no overtime. There were certain events that the AM radio might not able to get, but my team was able to .
I remembered one time when Leilani was then reporter and she passed out from hunger in Patag (Silay). The first thing she thought of when she came to was: “Oh no. Ma’am Bing will be so mad because I lost the microphone when I fell.”
They were really very careful about our equipment.
That dedication and integrity have become our brand. In fact, we have received a lot of feedback from sources who would say that the only station that does not accept envelopes is ABS-CBN Bacolod.
Geny and Gaby have different management styles. Geny was like a father. He took time to write.
Gaby, born and bred in the US, is not personal but he has the same heart. In fact, he never asked for a “thank you” for the things he has done.
One time, our Chief of Engineering died from a vehicular accident. I wrote Gaby that the guy will be leaving behind a small family. Gaby took over all the childnren’s education, even the rehabilitation of that child who needed it. Up to now, I don’t think they had taken the time to thank him. He does not mind. He does not even announce it anywhere.
They actually recognize those who are honest, have integrity.
This also became my philosophy because my father was also responsible and instrumental in forming me to what I am. He said that when you work for a company, you put all your efforts to it because you will reap the fruits in the end. He talked about being a bricklayer, and if you are a good enoug bricklayer, you can soon construct a building.
When I saw the coverage of the hearing, it was really repressive. They were humiliating Carlo (Katigbak) and Gaby. I could not stand it. It was so hard to watch. Those are good people being humiliated on TV. It was really bad.
I thought I was having a heart attack. My husband was wary that I might throw something at the TV. Before you know it, tears are streaming down your face.
[ABS-CBN] is my second home. That’s my Kapamilya. Even when I retired, I was still hired back as consultant. You can see how good they are with the people.
We called him Gaby. Mr. Geny did not want to be called sir. “Call me Geny,” he would say.
I do not want to talk about [the franchise renewal] at first, because it was because it was personal. I We know our employees are among the most highly-paid. Every day they can get two cups of rice, and soup. One time, Geny himself came to the building, and queued for some soup. The soup was cold.
“Is this what we are giving our people?” he said. Immediately, it was changed.
When you know how they are as employers, as bosses, and you see what is being done to them now, you would really cry. Feel sad. It is so unfair.
It was a different generation Lopezes.
Gaby would say, “I am not my father.” He grew up in the States, right? But he would do the same thing that his father would. If you ask for his help, he would give it to you.
More corporate now, more kapamilya then.
Why? Because then were were small, but then we eventually expanded. That was why I needed Leilani more and more because I do not know the nitty-gritty details anymore.
We might have expanded to more than 100 managers.
But we are Kapamilya still.
Then, you can enter their private rooms; but now it I different.
ABSCBN is [one of the country’s] highest taxpayer. The Bureau of Internal Revenues would know if they are evading taxes. Coming from the mouth of BIR who said that ABS-CBN has no violations.
ABS is not just there for the financial aspect. Name any catastrophe – typhoons, fires, earthquakes – we are there. We also have our Bantay Bata. With the closing of the network, a lot of scholars will have to stop schooling.
A lot of people are affected by the closure, because ABS-CBN has been a part of their life.
From social responsibility to coverage of Ruping to the abused children – we are there. It is called social responsibility.
When it comes to reality, it really is in service to the Filipino, wherever you may be.