MANILA — ABS-CBN Corp. chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III is a Filipino "from birth," the network's chief executive officer said Monday, after a lawmaker revived questions on the former's citizenship.
ABS-CBN, which regulators forced off air last May 5 due to its expired license, earlier denied reports claiming that Lopez is a US citizen who only secured Filipino citizenship in 2002. The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning media companies.
Lopez, born in 1952, is covered by the 1935 Constitution, which states that those who fathers are citizens of the Philippines are Filipinos from birth, said ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak.
"Ang tatay at nanay niya (Lopez) ay parehong Pilipino kaya from birth, automatic na siya'y isang Pilipino rin," Katigbak said in a congressional hearing on the proposed franchise for he network.
(His father and mother are both Filipinos so from birth, it's automatic that he is a Filipino, too.)
A Bureau of Immigration order in 2001 recognized that Lopez, born in Boston, US, is "a citizen of the Philippines," he said.
Lopez has a US passport because of his birthplace, which does not negate his Filipino citizenship, said Katigbak.
"Sa batas ng Amerika, kahit hindi Amerikano ang magulang mo, kapag ipinanganak ka sa US, automatic po na may hawak ka rin na American citizenship. Pero ang pagiging American citizen niya at ang paghawak niya ng US passport ay hindi nangangahulugang hindi rin siya isang Pilipino," he said.
(Under American law, even if your parents are not Americans, if you are born in the US, you will also automatically have American citizenship. But Lopez's American citizenship and US passport does not mean that he is not a Filipino, too.)
Lopez should attend congressional hearings "as a matter of courtesy" to the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta said earlier in the hearing.
"There are questions that are personal to him. I don't think the lawyers present today will be able to answer all these questions," he told colleagues.
"The issue of citizenship is a serious matter. I hope the representatives of ABS-CBN will find in their heart the importance of being able to motivate him, convince him to be present," he added.
The House committee on legislative franchises will "send an invitation [to Lopez] for our next hearing," said its chairman, Palawan First District Rep. Franz Alvarez.
Marcoleta during House deliberations last week had revived many of the issues against ABS-CBN, from alleged tax evasion to unfair labor practice and foreign ownership violations.
ABS-CBN, which has been losing millions since going off air on May 5, has however been cleared of wrongdoing by authorities.
A Bureau of Internal Revenue official in February said the company had no pending tax liability, and had a lone case pending before the Court of Tax Appeals.
ABS-CBN's issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts complied with existing laws, said its President and CEO Carlo Katigbak at a Senate hearing the same month.
The network's pay-per-view feature is also authorized under its franchise, said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
Monday's hearing comes in the final week before Congress goes on a break until before the end of July.
If the country's largest media and entertainment company remained off the air, Katigbak earlier said the company could soon release a list of those who could lose their jobs.
Watch a livestreaming of the proceedings here:
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