Can one with dual citizenship run a PH mass media company?

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10


Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 3) – Lawmakers found a fresh point of contention as they tackled ABS-CBN's ownership structure on Wednesday amid calls to renew the network's franchise. 

The Department of Justice has declared that ABS-CBN chairman emeritus and former chief executive officer Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III is Filipino by birth, regardless of his being an American citizen too as his mother gave birth to him in Boston in 1952.

Lopez also repeatedly denied renouncing his Philippine identity as he made use of his American passport and stayed abroad for an extended period to study college and seek refuge from the martial law regime in the Philippines.

The 1987 Constitution prescribes that the ownership and management of mass media "shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines," a provision seen to protect the industry from foreign incursion and control.

These ownership restrictions, however, are being relaxed through a separate bill approved by the House in March that will let fully foreign-owned corporations enter sectors like telecommunications and transportation and do business locally. Current limits force global firms to partner with a local company – the latter maintaining at least 60 percent or the controlling stake – if they want to venture in the Philippine market.

Wednesday's House hearing saw lawmakers repeatedly quizzing Lopez on whether or not he is a Filipino. However, Ako Bicol Party-List Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. and several solons shifted the line of questioning after the DOJ's definitive response.

"Undeniably, Gabby Lopez is a natural-born citizen but he is also an American citizen by virtue of jus soli principle applied in American law. Ang tanong: can a dual citizen own a mass media company?" inquired Garbin, a lawyer.

ABS-CBN corporate lawyer Mario Bautista, however, explained that statutory rules require that the Constitution must be applied using their "ordinary meaning" and that provisions be "understood in the sense they have in common use."

Bautista also argued that the issue at hand is within the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the DOJ and the Bureau of Immigration, which handles the registration of all businesses.

"Ni minsan po, wala pong nagsasabi sa amin na kapag dual citizen ka, hindi pwede. Kasi po ang nakalagay sa Constitution, kailangan Pilipino ka. Wala naman pong nakalagay doon na kailangan, Pilipino ka lang," Bautista said.

[Translation: Not once did anyone tell us that if you are a dual citizen, you cannot run mass media. Our Constitution says you must be Filipino, there's no provision there that prohibits someone from holding another citizenship apart from being Filipino.]

SEC Commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong has said that they hold ABS-CBN's corporate documents that show Lopez's Filipino citizenship.

Cavite Rep. Boying Remulla asked anew if Lopez is both a Filipino and American, to which Bautista replied that he holds dual citizenship, while Rep. Elpidio Barzaga also asked Lopez why he only thought of getting a Philippine passport in 2001 after decades of holding on to his citizenship here.

The DOJ has clarified that using a foreign passport and not owning a local travel document did not disqualify or cancel Lopez's nationality.

Dual allegiance is an issue for Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, who said that such arrangement is a make or break for people running for office.

"Kung kami po nire-require, barangay captain o kagawad, na isa lang, Pilipino ka lang, what more for a mass media company na ang pag-iisip ng bawat Pilipino ang pwede mong kontrolin? Na ang kultura ng ating bansa ay meron kang kinalaman? [If barangay captains and kagawads are required to have just one, Filipino citizenship, what more for a mass media company which can control how Filipinos think? Ones that can shape the country's culture?]," Defensor said.

He said the possible conflict of interest if someone who holds a Chinese citizenship would operate a local news outlet reporting issues on the West Philippine Sea as an example.

"If we require our kagawads to be full Filipino citizenship, it should be incumbent that those who handle mass media company should also be a Filipino citizen," Defensor added.

Lopez responded, citing that his record for the past 35 years will show that he is "committed to the people of this country." His lawyer also explained that while the long-time company executive had dual citizenship, but did not mean that he maintained dual allegiance to two states.

Meanwhile, Manila Rep. Edward Maceda offered to resolve the matter.

"I believe that with the laws we have right now, the fact that he is a natural-born Filipino citizen even if he is a dual citizen means he can be an owner of a mass media corporation," Maceda said during the hearing.

"In this case, siguro kung gusto nating mas malinawag kung ano talaga ang pupwede... In my humble opinion, pwede nating palitan ang batas sa mga darating na panahon [In this case, if we really want to make it clearer as to who is qualified... In my humble opinion, we can revise the law at a later time]," the lawmaker added.