It was exactly a year ago when the National Telecommunications Commission ordered ABS-CBN, the country's leading broadcast network, to cease its operations after its 25-year congressional franchise license expired on May 4, 2020.
The network's renewal application was still laid on the table of the House of Representatives, consisting mostly of President Rodrigo Duterte's allies, when the agency directed its closure.
Its top officials had previously assured the broadcast giant to grant a temporary operating license while the application was pending due to the demand for information during the pandemic but they later backtracked its promise to the network.
There were numerous attempts to legislate the license on time, but it was eventually delayed, partly by the coronavirus lockdown.
Two months after the operation stoppage, congress finally affirmed to deny the renewal of the television network's broadcast franchise, with 70 of the franchise committee members voted for the denial, 11 voted for the renewal, two voted for inhibition and one for abstention.
President Duterte has been occupied with a long-running fight with the station when they refused to run his campaign ads during the 2016 presidential election.
But it was not the first time that ABS-CBN’s license to operate was put at stake. In 2006, NTC formed an inquiry as to whether ABS-CBN violated a circular that requires a network “not to commit any act that would be detrimental to public health, public welfare or public safety” after its phenomenal game show was haunted by its followers gambling their lives for the chances of winning.
On February 4, 2006, at least 71 dead while 1,125 were injured after a stampede for tickets outside the former Ultra Stadium (now PhilSports Stadium).
Around 30,000 had gone to the arena for the first-anniversary episode of the now-defunct noontime variety show “Wowowee”.
When the organizers announced that only 17,000 would be accommodated, those outside started pushing until the crowd went out of control, broke the metal gate and crushed victims who were mostly children, middle-aged or elderly women.
The show, which broadcasts six days a week, usually offers a one million peso cash prize, but the anniversary edition had doubled that money.
Most people waiting outside the area had camped out for days outside the area, hoping to participate in the said celebration where huge prizes were supposed to be given away.
As a result of the tragedy, then ABS-CBN Chairman and Chief Executive Office Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III went on air to assume responsibility for the incident and promised to aid the casualties' families.
“Task Force Ultra” was immediately formed by numerous government agencies to investigate the incident. According to its findings, Wowowee offered only very limited passes to a huge crowd with some people waiting for days to be allowed in the area. The organizers have also failed to coordinate with the relevant government agencies.
A month after the stampede, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) recommended charges against 17 people, including ABS-CBN top executive Charo Santos-Concio, Wowowee Host Willie Revillame and then Pasig City Mayor Vicente Eusebio.
However, Revillame was absolved by the Department of Justice while Santos-Concio, together with other ABS-CBN top executives, was cleared by Judge Agnes Reyes Carpio of Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 261 in 2009. Meanwhile, Eusebio successfully finished his term in 2007 and was succeeded by his son, Robert.
The 2007 and 2010 editions of Guinness World Records cited the incident as "the greatest death toll in a game show".
Revillame left ABS-CBN in 2010 but remained haunted by controversies. After transferring to its rival network GMA, the TV host became involved in another crowd management incident in 2019 after two female audience members fell from bleachers, losing their balance while singing and dancing. One of them died suffering from a fracture while the other was injured with her head hitting a fire extinguisher.
On the other hand, Vico Sotto, son of Eat Bulaga host Vic Sotto, defeated Robert in the latter’s reelection bid, toppling the 27-year reign of the Eusebio clan in Pasig City. Eat Bulaga was the rival noontime show of Wowowee during its days of airing.
Sotto was a local legislator before aiming for the top executive position of the city. At age 29, Sotto became the youngest winning mayoral candidate in the region.
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