MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— ABS-CBN Corp. chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III on Wednesday asked lawmakers to look at his record of service to Filipinos as he answered questions on his citizenship, which critics raised against the proposed fresh franchise for the network.
Several lawmakers quizzed Lopez on his allegiance to the Philippines due to his dual citizenship as a Filipino and American. The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning media companies.
"I have been committed to the people of this country. It is a trust that has been passed on to me by my father and by his father before him. It is the trust that has been given to me and in fact, I always tell our employees dito sa ABS-CBN po, it’s not just a job, it is a calling," Lopez said.
"So please if you are going to look beyond the technicality and talk about allegiance, please look at my record over the last 35 years po," he added.
Lopez was born in the US to parents who are both Philippine citizens.
"Without any overt act or choice, Mr. Lopez was automatically a Filipino citizen and an American citizen," said his lawyer, Mario Bautista.
Lopez said he studied in the Philippines until high school and never had to swear allegiance to the US when he completed his college and postgraduate studies there.
He said he had used a US passport before he applied for recognition of his Philippine citizenship in 2001 as a confirmatory act before the immigration bureau and justice department.
The use of a foreign passport is "not indicative" that one is not a Filipino, said Bautista. He cited a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that junked a petition which claimed that a private respondent was not a Filipino due to the use of an Australian passport and immigrant certificate of residence.
"In order that citizenship may be lost by renunciation, such renunciation must be expressed," Bautista said.
"Doon po sa punto na ginamit po ni Mr. Lopez ang kaniyang American passport, hindi po nagkakahulugan na hindi siya Pilipino," he added.
(Mr. Lopez's use of his American passport does not mean that he is not a Filipino.)
Lopez said he never renounced his Filipino citizenship.
His 2-page request for the justice department to confirm that he is a Filipino is not the same as naturalization which grants citizenship through Congress or tedious court proceedings, said Bautista.
Lopez's citizenship is "a non-issue because he is undeniably a natural-born Filipino citizen," said Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman.
"No amount of interpellation would change this overriding and unalterable fact," he added.
Lopez said he had "considered" renouncing his US citizenship even though "it was never something that I felt was an issue in terms of any of my action," he said.
"I will live, I will die in the Philippines... Frankly, the issue of being a dual citizen is not something I think about. I know in my heart that I am a Filipino and all my actions in the 35 years I'd been associated with ABS-CBN has been with the service of the Filipino in my mind," he said.
"If it came down to conflict of interest, I will give up my US citizenship in a minute," he added.
Lopez served in various positions for the country's top broadcaster after the 1986 People Power revolution paved the way for its return to his family. He retired as chief executive when he turned 60 and as chairman at 65.
Watch a livestreaming of the proceedings here:
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