“ABS-CBN’s return to the Lopezes was done in accordance with the law, and that is our truth.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA– Broadcasting giant ABS-CBN continues its fight for franchise renewal as representatives of the company defended the network against several allegations during a series of hearings at the House of the Representatives.
On Monday’s joint hearing of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises and Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on ABS-CBN’s franchise, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak belied the claim that the Lopezes unjustly reclaimed the network after the end of Martial Law, and stressed that the Lopezes had been the true owners of the network before it was taken over in the first place.
Katigbak added that the Lopez family’s alleged unjust reclamation of ABS-CBN has been the ‘most hurtful accusation.’ “ABS-CBN’s return to the Lopezes was done in accordance with the law, and that is our truth.”
A day after former dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972, soldiers stormed the ABS-CBN station and forcibly shut it down. It was only after Marcos was toppled through people’s uprising that the Lopezes regained ownership of ABS-CBN.
Katigbak also answered Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta’s claim that the network’s issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts to foreigners violates the Constitution. He said that the Securities and Exchange Commission already confirmed the legality of the network’s PDRs.
He also said that GMA Network, much like ABS-CBN, has also issued PDRs but was not questioned during their franchise renewal.
“A PDR is not a share or stock in ABS-CBN. It’s clear that PDR holders can’t vote on anything that has to do with running ABS-CBN,” Katigbak explained.
He also argued against the claim that ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal goes against the Constitution, and that no franchise shall go over its 50-years period.
“It does state that no franchise shall go over fifty years. But it did not state that the company’s life should be limited to 50 years. We are still allowed to apply for our franchise to be renewed,” Katigbak said.
He then stated that multiple networks have been operating for more than 50 years, including ABS-CBN’s competitor GMA, who has been in operation for 70 years now.
As to the dual citizenship of ABS-CBN Corporation’s Chairman Emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, Katigbak said that the latter is a Filipino citizen. He provided the legislators a copy of the document from the Department of Justice dated 2001, granting the request for recognition as a Filipino citizen of Lopez.
The ABS-CBN CEO also cited Section 1, Article 4 of the 1935 Constitution which states that those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines are recognized as citizens of the Philippines.
Several lawmakers raised questions regarding Lopez’s dual citizenship, stating that the Philippine Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning media companies.
Lopez also joined the congressional hearing, June 3, to defend the network’s new franchise bid from allegations of foreign ownership, after his U.S. citizenship was reported to the committee.
Lopez, whose allegiance to the Philippines is being questioned, said that the lawmakers should look past the technicalities and look at his 35-year record.
“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,” Gabby said.
Atty. Mario Bautista, Lopez’s lawyer, also said that the use of foreign passport does not indicate that a person is not a Filipino citizen. Bautista also said that Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor’s argument referred to dual allegiance and not dual citizenship.
He also added that Defensor’s argument on the prohibition of dual citizenship is a law covering public officers only and not citizens like Lopez.
Lopez also said that if it came down to conflict of interest, he would give up his U.S. citizenship in a minute.
“I will live and die in the Philippines. I know in my heart I’m a Filipino,” he said.
Media groups have denounced the cease and desist order against the ABS-CBN on May 5, calling the shutdown as the “biggest blow on press freedom” during the health crisis.