By Ellson Quismorio
Late strongman president Ferdinand Marcos didn’t steal ABS-CBN from the Lopezes during the declaration of nationwide martial law, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Wednesday.
“The title of all of these facilities were never transferred to the government,” Enrile told the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability, which have been hearing the bills seeking the renewal of the shuttered network’s operating franchise.
Enrile, who joined the proceedings via Zoom, was referring to the media network which was sequestered by the government upon Marcos’s declaration of martial law on September 22, 1972. This included ABS-CBN.
“They (titles) remained with the owners. Hindi po tama yung sinabi ni [Augusto] Jake Almeda-Lopez na inagaw ni Presidente Marcos yung ABS-CBN (Jake Almeda-Lopez’s statement that President Marcos stole ABS-CBN is false),” said the 96-year-old Enrile, who at that time was the Minister of National Defense.
“It was a part of the national policy to immobilize and control the communication systems and the outlets for information in the entire nation. And that’s what we did,” he noted, adding, “Ako ang nagpadala ng mga militar noon para ipasara ang ABS-CBN (I was the one who sent the soldiers who closed ABS-CBN).”
Almeda-Lopez, network vice chairman, also joined the hearing remotely as a resource person.
“Kinuha sa amin ng mga Marcos ang ABS-CBN (The Marcoses took ABS-CBN away from us),” Lopez, 95, earlier told the joint panel.
“For 14 years, pinalakad ng mga Marcos… Sasabihin ko sa inyo, hindi isinoli sa amin. Kinuha namin, ibinalik namin sa sarili namin (The Marcoses ran it for 14 years… I will tell you, it wasn’t returned to us. We took it back ourselves),” he said.
Almeda-Lopez and Enrile were the first resource persons allowed to speak during the hearing as courtesy because of their age.
Enrile, who called fellow lawyer Almeda-Lopez as his friend, said the sequestration of television and radio networks was done in order to avoid the outbreak of violence.
“In the planning of martial law, it was the agreement of the government that to prevent bloodshed in the country… And so, therefore, an order was issued to sequester all television stations, all radio stations, all communication facilities – both domestic and international – in the country… in order to control the situation so that there would be no reaction or opposition to the declaration of martial law,” he said.
ABS-CBN, Meralco offered to Marcos admin
The former multi-term senator went on to reveal to the joint panel that Eugenio “Gene” Lopez himself allegedly approached him sometime in 1973 to ask the government to take both ABS-CBN and the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) from the family’s hands.
“Gene Lopez, the father of Gabby [Lopez III], asked a meeting with me…and Gene Lopez said they wanted the government to take over ABS-CBN and transfer the ownership and control of ABS-CBN because they could not service their loans. That was the situation,” he said.
Enrile said the Lopezes’ debt at that time was P100 million.
“Now, President Marcos rejected the offer and because of that it (ABS-CBN) was placed under the management and control of Bobby Benedicto,” he recalled.
As for the offer to take over power distribution utility Meralco, Enrile said this can be found in a report made by then-Meralco chairman Emilio Abello and signed by then-Meralco president Cenen Gabaldon.
Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan has since taken over control of Meralco.
Almeda-Lopez acknowledged that ABS-CBN was under “heavily obligations” at that time, but mainly due to the financial stress that comes with running a huge broadcast network.
“Tama si Johnny (Enrile is correct). We were concerned about the obligations. ABS had heavy obligations because it put up the broadcast center. And I’ll tell you, we had to go outside the Philippines because the local banking community was very, very adamant about lending money to broadcast companies because they knew that was relatively fragile,” he said.