'Laban lang': How an ABS-CBN teleserye writer is coping with the network shutdown
MANILA, Philippines – The creatives of ABS-CBN are used to shocking plot twists – they write it themselves in the television shows that have become part of many a Filipino’s evening ritual. But when the network's TV and radio operations were ordered to shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on May 5, even they were gobsmacked.
Chino Nicanor, writer for the ongoing teleserye A Soldier’s Heart, was in an online meeting with the creative team when the news broke. Even if they had an inkling of a shutdown order, they kept on with the meeting – until the shutdown was announced, at which point they all had to put a pause on the work at hand to let out their frustrations.
“[It was] a huge slap to our face. I felt my heart climb all the way up to my throat and freefall down into my stomach,” he said.
“I tried my best to contain myself but I couldn't. My mom called to comfort me but there was little her words of comfort and anger at the injustice could do to the damage that had been done. I felt so angry, so sad, yet so helpless. I knew the that I could still fight by not being silent but at that moment, I felt it all crumble,” he added.
ABS-CBN’s flagship station Channel 2 went dark that day to comply with the NTC’s order, which came after the network’s congressional franchise lapsed after the House failed to act on its renewal on time.
Channel 2 was broadcast all over the Philippines, and when it went off air, so did its popular news programs, variety shows, and of course, its beloved teleseryes.
Yes, they continued to air programs on their cable channel, on social media, and via their streaming platform – but this narrowed their reach significantly, not to mention cost the company millions per day, and put some 11,000 employees at the risk of losing their source of income.
At the time of the shutdown, production on many of ABS-CBN’s new teleseryes had already been put on pause anyway because of the coronavirus pandemic (the joke was that long-running teleserye Ang Probinsyano, which many people believed would run forever, had finally met its match).
When production on the new shows was halted, they were replaced temporarily by old favorites – but viewers looked forward to the day where they could jump back in to all the new stories that ABS-CBN had just begun to tell.
Chino said that after the news of the closure came, his head writer gave their creative team time to rest and process it.
“Even he was startled,” Chino shared. “We were all angry but we needed to cool down a bit. He told us just like what the producers have told us during times of great strife (before and during the hearings), ‘Laban lang (keep fighting).’”
Finally, in June, the network announced that several teleseryes would be returning – not to Channel 2, which still remains off-air – but to its other available channels and platforms at least. Ang Probinsyano, Love Thy Woman, and A Soldier’s Heart all came back, though the teleserye slate already counted one casualty: Make it With You, the much-hyped TV return of top love team Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil, which went viral the day it premiered.
With shows back in production, ABS-CBN’s creatives had work to do again.
Keep fighting – this has become a mantra for Chino, who says he keeps working as a way to “stick it to the man.”
He’s been part of ABS-CBN’s creative team for about 4 years now, and as part of the job he does research, proofreads and writes episodes scripts, brainstorms and writes concepts for new shows and sometimes pitches them.
Chino continues to do all of that now – which is brazenly hopeful, considering the ABS-CBN’s predicament. After all, what use would the concept for a new show be if the network is not granted its franchise? But he keeps going simply because he loves his job.
“I love writing and I love the people I've come to work with. That is why I'm going to keep writing, telling stories, and most of all, fighting for our franchise,” he said.
He said that his income is secure for now – ABS-CBN pledged to keep their employees on payroll at least until August – but he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Artists and talent managers have already taken pay cuts to help cushion to blow of the shutdown.
Through all this, and a pandemic besides, Chino copes by reading, writing, playing video games, and “doing anything, for that matter, to enrich myself so when ABS comes back on, I have a lot of stuff to write.”
“Amidst it all, I try not to be silent about our country's injustices as well,” he said.
He acknowledged that even with ABS-CBN’s situation and with the coronavirus health crisis, he is privileged enough so that not much has changed in terms of his day-to-day life.
“Countless others have lost their jobs, had to drastically change life plans, had to sacrifice something important to simply survive, and more due to this quarantine. I think about them everyday which dismays me and urges me to go on. Whenever I have a chance to help, I do,” he shared.
What has changed – or heightened, to be more precise – was his frustration with the government.
“However, with politics, I've reached a whole new level of irritation. I wasn't a fan of how [government] ran the drug war before amongst other things, but mishandling the country during COVID is just — WOW.”
He shared that these frustrations sometimes seep into scripts – even making it in dialogues – though many of his jabs at the administration get revised to keep things neutral.
“[The head writer] was right to do this kasi nagmumukha akong petty (I end up looking petty). But with the way he writes, pro-admin or not, there should be a certain standard of goodness and justice we should uphold to be halfway decent people,” he said.
At the moment, Chino is just working on revisions and keeping up with the news. Lawmakers resumed hearings for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal on June 29 and may vote on the measure as early as July 6. Many are tuned in to see how the network’s story will play out.
In the meantime, the NTC has continued to deal more blows to the network, cutting off even more of its businesses, including the satellite subscription service SkyDirect, and channels that can be viewed via its digital box TV Plus.
At the rate things are going, its hard to envision a favorable outcome, but Chino is keeping his hopes up. It makes sense. This may not be an ending he can write, but as teleserye tropes go, justice is always served in the end and the underdog almost always wins.
“I am hopeful for ABS' return but to be realistic, so long as there are certain morally-skewed politicians sitting in certain places of power, it may not happen soon,” he said. “But it will happen and justice will prevail.” – Rappler.com