By Ben Rosario
Doubts about the Filipino citizenship of former ABS-CBN president and current chairman emeritus Eugenio Gabriel Lopez III appeared to have been erased as an issue against the network’s bid for a new 25-year legislative franchise.
Lopez, together with his lawyer Mario Bautista, appeared before the joint hearing of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and convinced majority of congressmen who took turns in questioning him that he is indeed a Filipino.
Chaired by Reps. Franz Alvarez (NUP, Palawan) and Jonathan Sy Alvarado (NP, Bulacan), respectively, the two House panels will now shift its discussion on the franchise application on the issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts by ABS-CBN.
The Department of Justice, represented in the virtual hearing by Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, strongly backed Lopez’s contention that despite holding a US passport, the ABS-CBN executive retains his being a citizen of the Philippines.
Villar explained that the certificate of recognition of citizenship that the justice department granted Lopez does not imply he had previously lost his citizenship.
“Ang paggamit niya ng US passport ay hindi dahilan para mawalan siya ng Filipino citizenship,” said Villar, a former member of the House of Representatives.
She backed ABS-CBN’s contention that Lopez is both an American and Filipino citizen but does not violate the constitutional restriction against ownership of a media entity by a non-citizen of the republic.
Lopez and his lawyer stressed that the latter is a natural born Filipino as defined under the 1935 Constitution.
Despite his being born in Boston, Massachusetts, Lopez is a Filipino because both his parents are Filipinos.
The ABS-CBN official explained that he was born in the US when his father, the late Eugenio Lopez II, was studying at the Harvard Business School in Boston.
He was brought home to the Philippines after his father’s completion of his masteral degree at Harvard a year later but returned in 1974 to escape the martial law prosecution of critics of the Marcos administration.
“I have been living in the Philippines all my life,” Lopez stressed.
Reps. Edcel Lagman (Independent, Albay); Rufus Rodriguez (SD, Cagayan de Oro City); Elizabeth Sato (LP, Mindoro Occidental); Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna Partylist); Alfredo Garbin (Ako Bicol Partylist) and Gabriel Bordado (LP, Camarines Sur) declared that the constitutional provision that qualified Lopez as a Filipino is unquestionable.
Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante also supported Lopez as a Filipino, pointing out that his parents were both born in the Philippines.
However, Reps. Claudine Bautista (Dumper PTDA partylist); Rodante Marcoleta (Sagip Partylist) and Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan Parytlist) have remained undecided on the citizenship issue.
Defensor said being a holder of an US passport, Lopez had signed a form that contains information that the applicant renounced any citizenship other than other American citizenship.
On the other hand, Bautista asked if Lopez had taken an oath of US allegiance as a student in the US, like what Filipinos primary and secondary students do.
The network executive said he never had to take an oath as US citizen because he completed elementary, high school and undergraduate course in the Philipines.
Responding to a question by Defensor, Lopez said he had considered dropping his American citizenship.
“I am first and foremost a Filipino. I know in my heart that I am a Filipino,” the said.