The Butcher | Amidst the Eat Bulaga-TVJ tussle, Philippine TV turns 70!

To commemorate Philippine television’s 70th year, The Butcher will cite in a series of articles the best 70 local shows in the past seven decades. But first, a brief look-back at the beginnings of television in the Philippines.

Illustration: Katrina Jamilano

To commemorate Philippine television’s 70th year, The Butcher will cite in a series of articles the best 70 local shows in the past seven decades. But first, a brief look-back at the beginnings of television in the Philippines.

Philippine television turns septuagenarian this year.     

Despite the various platforms available today, free TV is still the most affordable source of entertainment for many Filipinos.

To commemorate Philippine television’s 70th year, The Butcher will cite in a series of articles the best 70 local shows in the past seven decades. But first, a brief look-back at the beginnings of television in the Philippines.



The seeds that started TV in the Philippines came from literal metal scraps. These were war surplus that were being sold at giveaway prices after the US liberated the Philippines from the Japanese.

The story, however, begins half a century earlier – during the initial phase of the American Occupation of our archipelago.     

In the early 1900s, along with US military troops, came American educators (the Thomasites) and businessmen.  American investors actually saw a golden opportunity to earn big bucks in the new US territory.     

A lot of them established businesses in what would later be called the downtown area – Escolta and its neighboring communities. A family from San Francisco, California, for instance, put up the Heacock’s department store. It was a commercial establishment that sold luxury items to Manila’s perfumed set.     

But there were those who preferred to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. The Lindenbergs, also from the US, decided to bring in from America heavy equipment that were sold to their American compatriots who were involved in mining in Benguet. The business was so brisk, they made the Philippine Islands their home.     

A Lindenberg offspring, James, in fact, was born in the Philippines. He spent most of his young life in the northern Luzon area. Bolinao in Pangasinan – in time – became his permanent base.     

For his tertiary studies, however, James went to the US to study engineering. He was in America when the Second World War broke out. James eventually joined the military and found himself back in the archipelago during the Leyte landing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He stayed behind after the war.     

Having married a Pangasinense, the former Soledad Sanchez, James lived in Bolinao once again. A very industrious person, he put up Bolinao Electronics. With his meager capital, he bought cheap war surplus that he reassembled to make transmitters and amplifiers for military use. Local radio stations were also among his clients.    

James later manufactured radio sets and even joined the broadcast industry by putting up his own radio station. His involvement in the radio business fired up even more his burning desire to bring television to the Philippines. Television, after all, was already a burgeoning business in the States.     

He tried applying for a TV franchise here in the Philippines and was granted one. All James needed was funding for his dream TV venture.     

But while James, an American, was given a permit to put up his own TV station practically in a snap, the businessman Antonio Quirino was refused a franchise to operate a television network in his own country. Another believer in the viability of television, Antonio was the brother of then incumbent President, Elpidio Quirino, who was seeking reelection.

President Quirino’s opponent was formidable: the 1950s bright boy of politics, Ramon Magsaysay. The Zambales native’s reputation was untarnished, while Quirino was beset with various scandals, including one rumor that claimed he had a P5,000 golden orinola (chamber pot) in his room at the Palace. Granddaughter Cory Quirino had repeatedly denied this rumor.     

Magsaysay was also young and vibrant and easily connected to the masses. Quirino, sadly, had become sickly and wasn’t healthy enough to go on campaign sorties.     

Antonio Quirino believed that television could help his brother court voters. But first, he needed a franchise from Congress. President Quirino was part of the Liberal Party. It wasn’t surprising therefore that the opposing Nacionalista members – the majority – turned down the franchise application of Antonio.         

Sounds familiar? The story never changes – only the characters.     

Antonio only got to television by teaming up with James Lindenberg, who had the franchise, but didn’t have enough capital to fund his TV dream. The merging of the business interests of the two gentlemen resulted in the creation of ABS. No CBN yet.     

ABS stood for Alto Broadcasting System. Alto came from the first names of the Quirino couple: Aleli and Tony.

The inaugural broadcast of ABS – Philippine television in reality – was on October 7, 1953. The initial content: a party at the fabulous home of Antonio Quirino in San Juan, which was then still part of Rizal. The first local TV celebrity may as well have been the party’s hostess, Vicky Quirino, who later became the mother-in-law of Kuh Ledesma. Vicky was acting as First Lady during the Quirino administration since her mother, Alicia, and some of her siblings died during the Battle for Manila.     

Unfortunately for the Quirinos, they gambled on television a bit quite too early. Television hardly helped Quirino during the campaign since there were only a hundred or so TV sets in the country during that election season.   

Elpidio Quirino lost his bid for reelection. As soon as Magsaysay took over the Palace, tax evasion charges were hurled at Antonio Quirino. Again – same story, but with different characters.     

When Magsaysay died in a plane crash on March 17,1957, the political landscape changed. No one bothered with the tax cases anymore.             

But Antonio Quirino was done with TV. He and Lindenberg decided to sell their joint business venture to the Lopez family. The Lopezes already had a newspaper, The Manila Chronicle, and several radio stations that were under the company name Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN).

The Manila Chronicle was only second to The Manila Times, which was owned by the Roces siblings. Television was going to be their edge over that family of mestizos.     

Eugenio Lopez, Sr. bought Alto Broadcasting System and Bolinao Electronics on February 24, 1957. With the merging of Alto Broadcasting System and the Lopez-owned Chronicle Broadcasting Network,  ABS became ABS-CBN.    

The future of ABS-CBN is currently in limbo – and so is the entire TV industry. With entertainment features now mostly available on demand, thanks to technology, television had never been this close to its grave.     

But while TV is still around, let us celebrate its 70th anniversary. After all, in the last seven decades, television was widely responsible for bringing us information and entertainment.     

The medium had been called several names – idiot box, boob tube and even tool of the devil. But it was able to serve its purpose well. Didn’t we see the landing of the first man on the moon through the magic of television?     

More importantly, TV served as our nanny when our parents were busy at work or with chores at home. Here’s to 70 years of Philippine TV!     

(The Butcher will enumerate the list of the best 70 shows ever aired on local television in a series of articles that will be uploaded every Monday in this online site.)



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