ABS-CBN's Gabby Lopez grilled for 3 hours on citizenship, passport issues

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 04 2020 01:41 AM | Updated as of Jun 04 2020 11:02 AM

ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III answers questions during the House of Representatives hearing on the ABS-CBN broadcast franchise on June 3, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio Gabby Lopez III on Wednesday broke his silence on allegations he was not a Filipino citizen when he became owner and top executive of ABS-CBN, which is being used by those opposing a new broadcast franchise for the network because the 1987 Constitution limits mass media ownership to Filipinos only.

For almost 3 hours, Lopez was on video conferencing platform Zoom and patiently answered repetitive questions by lawmakers of the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government and Public Accountability on his natural-born Filipino citizenship.

Good Government Committee Chair Jose Antonio Sy Alvarado explained that the panel prioritized the testimony of Lopez because the ownership and management of mass media is constitutionally limited only to Filipino citizens.

During questioning by DUMPER PTDA Party List Rep. Claudine Diana Bautista, Lopez said that before 2001, he was travelling with a US passport, identifying himself as an American in the relevant forms. 

He explained these forms had no provision addressing multiple citizenship. Lopez also said that even when he was in the US, he never took a pledge of allegiance to the US. 

He said he studied in the Philippines from grade school to high school and he only took college and masters degrees in the US. Lopez said he applied for college education as a Filipino and he confirmed he voted in the 2016 US election.

Lopez also admitted that he got his first Philippine passport only in 2001. Before that, his US passport was stamped with a balikbayan visa whenever he came to the Philippines. 

He said this is one of the reasons why he applied for recognition of Philippine citizenship in 2001. Lopez said the matter of his US passport was not raised before ABS-CBN management.

Lopez explained he took it upon himself to apply for recognition because he was advised by lawyers that he is a natural-born Filipino since he had Filipino parents. However he had no Philippine birth certificate because he was not born in the country.

ABS-CBN General Counsel Mario Luza Bautista cited jurisprudence that the use of a foreign passport is not proof of loss of Filipino citizenship. Upon questioning by Rep. Crispin Remulla, Bautista said Lopez is a dual citizen as an automatic legal consequence of being born to Filipino parents in the United States.

Conceding that Lopez is both Filipino and American, Anak Kalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor shifted the argument to dual allegiance of citizens being inimical to national interest as stated in the Constitution, citing a law that was passed that disqualified those with 2 citizenships from holding public office. 

Defensor said that if public officials are not allowed to have 2 citizenships, what more owners of mass media who could influence the public.

That was when Lopez cited his record of service to the nation.

”I always tell employees, it is not just a a job, calling. So please if you are going to look beyond technicality, and allegiance, please look at my record over last 35 years," he said.

Upon questioning by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Bautista explained Lopez applied for recognition because there was an Immigration Bureau instruction to that effect.

Bautista cited that then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez said in the recognition of Lopez’s Filipino citizenship that this was an affirmation of the latter's Filipino citizenship and was not a grant.

Then Immigration commissioner and now Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez for his part got Lopez to admit that another reason he sought recognition is because he was applying for a Philippine passport. Rodriguez also explained it was his circular as Immigration chief that required dual citizens to carry both Filipino and non-Filipino passports when traveling.

Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar told the committee that the DOJ’s recognition of Lopez’s citizenship through the immigration bureau was not an act to grant or perfect his citizenship since his parents were Filipinos and that having a US passport did not strip him of his Filipino citizenship.

Lopez also explained to Barzaga why he did not try to get a Philippine passport even when his family was on exile in the US during martial law. Lopez then recalled that his family fled to the US after the martial law regime detained his father. 

"After 1972 it was martial law. My property taken by Marcos. How could I go to an embassy owned and controlled by Marcos and ask for a passport," he said.

Bautista told Barzaga that Lopez was listed as a Filipino citizen in the Articles of Incorporation filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

SEC Commissioner Ephyr Amatong said they only have records submitted by ABS-CBN identifying him as Filipino citizen. They did not ask for the citizenship records of parents.

The panel then asked for certified true copies of all documents, as well financial statements and the Philippine Depositary Receipts. 
The panel also asked for the SEC filings of ABS-CBN as well as Lopez’s passport and the signed application. 

The panel also sought records of the ownership structure of ABS-CBN as Lopez could not immediately recall how much of ABS-CBN Lopez owns. He explained that the individual shares of the Lopez family are not significant as it is the family holding firm that controls ABS-CBN.

Lopez also told Rodriguez and AKO Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin that he never renounced his Filipino citizenship and his citizenship was never invalidated by any court.

Garbin later said the question now is whether dual citizens like Lopez can own mass media, consistent with the Constitution.

Bautista answered by saying that Congress needs to pass an enabling law first if it wants to bar dual citizens from owning mass media.

Defensor conceded the need for such a law to be passed first but he argued that having dual citizenship may have a bearing on dual allegiance. 

Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta also said there would have been no problem if Lopez was not a dual citizen. Later on Defensor tried argue that Lopez may have renounced his citizenship when he tried to get a renewal of his US passport because of a provision in the US passport renewal application that maybe misconstrued as a renunciation. 

When asked if he ever considered giving up US citizenship to be only a Filipino citizen, Lopez explained it was not something he thought about. 

Lopez asserted readiness to give up his US citizenship if there was was a conflict of interest.

Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano later asked the House Secretariat to study crafting a law banning dual citizens from owning mass media.

Marcoleta tried to confront Lopez with an alien fingerpint card Lopez allegedly filled out but he stopped his questioning after Rep. Elpidio Barzaga insisted to get certified true copies of that document first. Barzaga pointed out that the document was not certified.

Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante ended the hearing by affirming his support for Lopez after the latter maintained he didnt take an oath of allegiance in the US.

“What our laws prohibit naniniwala po ako is dual allegiance not dual citizenship. Tulad ng mga kaso nina Edu Manzano at FPJ, hindi labag sa ating batas na magkaroon ng dual citizenship. Tulad ng aking apo na ipinanganak sa Amerika pero ang kaniyang nanay ay Pilipino. Kahit tatay ay Amerikano, siya ay itinuturing na Pilipino," he said. "And I will stand by you as a fellow Filipino."

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