EUGENIO “Gabby” La’O Lopez 3rd — who has, since, 1987, run media giant ABS-CBN Corp., of which he is a major owner — is a United States citizen.
He travels the world using his American passport, the current one issued by the Los Angeles Passport Agency, sources with access to US and Philippine government records disclosed.
This is a patent violation of our Constitution’s Article XVI, Section 11 (1): “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”
This means ABS-CBN has been violating the 1995 law to operate broadcast media, whose very first sentence states that the franchise is “subject to the provisions of the Constitution.”
Congress would shame itself if it renews the franchise of a company that has trampled on our Constitution, its owners managing to hide Lopez’s citizenship because of its power over past administrations.
Lopez acquired Philippine citizenship only in 2004, a year after the Dual Citizenship Law took effect. This law allowed natural-born Filipinos who acquired citizenship in another country to acquire Philippine citizenship after a process specified by the law.
That certainly would have been big news: the chairman of one of the country’s biggest media firms, and among the richest Filipinos, acquiring Philippine citizenship, a big boost to confidence over country.
After days of looking, I found absolutely no report on this that the questions passed through my mind: “Did he really go through the process of acquiring Philippine citizenship?” and “Was it kept secret at all costs, since it would reveal that he was a US citizen in the first place?
Lopez should thank Rappler President Maria Ressa, who acquired Filipino citizenship also in 2004, clearly in order to skirt the constitutional ban on foreigners in media. Sources in ABS-CBN claimed that its lawyers advised Lopez to acquire Philippine citizenship in the course of their studies, after being asked whether the hiring of US citizen Ressa as the media firm’s news division head violated the Constitution. (Ressa very quickly became a Filipino citizen through the Dual Citizen Law, which, like Lopez, she kept secret.)
While it isn’t clear whether the ban on foreigners in media applies to a dual citizen, it is incontrovertible that ABS-CBN violated the Constitution for 18 years, from 1986 to 2004, when Lopez was in its top management and one of its six biggest individual stockholders yet had solely US citizenship.
After President Corazon Aquino restored ABS-CBN to the Lopez clan in 1986, Lopez assumed the position of finance director, then that of general manager the next year, and subsequently president and chief executive officer, chairman and finally chairman emeritus.
What kind of Congress will we have if it insists on giving an authority to operate to a media company that has been trampling on our Constitution and the provisions of its expiring franchise?
It is astonishing that ABS-CBN got to keep Lopez’s citizenship secret for 34 years.
Or maybe not: that is the kind of power an oligarch who has been feared by past presidents has. Or perhaps it is all about hubris and arrogance that it can ignore the Constitution. All of the documents the Lopezes’ firms have submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and notarized as true, report that he is a Filipino citizen when he acquired such citizenship only in 2004.
Perhaps Sen. Mary Grace Poe intuitively feels an affinity with Lopez that she called a hearing on its franchise application — a violation of the Constitution, claims Speaker Alan Cayetano, since the bill for this should come from the House first.
Poe was also a US citizen, an issue that nearly derailed her political career. Well, at least Poe claims she had renounced her US citizenship. Lopez has been keeping it secret.
The first thing Poe should do in her hearing is to subpoena the Bureau of Immigration to produce Lopez’s travel records for at least five years and the documents he submitted to become a dual citizen, all of which would incontrovertibly show if Lopez is a US citizen or not.
Or maybe she should subpoena Lopez himself to the hearing. Or does she fear or is in awe of the media mogul?
It isn’t clear when and how Lopez became a US citizen. He couldn’t have been born in the US and therefore a natural citizen, unless all the many CVs on him — including that in Wikipedia, which appears to have had his approval — that he was born in the Philippines are wrong.
A cable of US Ambassador to Manila William Sullivan to the Secretary of State in September 1975 — when Lopez was 23 — reported that he was already an American citizen at the time. This was information the US Embassy, of course, could easily get and had to be certain about since Lopez could ask the US Embassy for its assistance and intervention as a US citizen.
This is especially so since, according to the cable and as reported in two newspapers at that time, Lopez was among six young men (Miguel Romulo and two others who were not identified) who were arrested after a 21-year-old polio victim (unidentified in the communication) accused them of multiple rape. The cable said, though, that the embassy’s “police source noted that Gabby Lopez did not participate in the rape.”
Lopez could have acquired American citizenship only through “naturalization” after he reached the age of 18, had been a permanent resident of the US for five years, and formally renounced his Filipino citizenship and pledged his allegiance to the US.
What kind of nation are we that we allowed an American citizen to run one of the biggest media firms in the country, one that has arguably been molding the minds of our citizens, even if the Constitution unambiguously forbids this? What kind of Congress would allow him to continue?
It is sickening that ABS-CBN celebrities and leftist groups, like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which has a tiny membership of mostly mediocre and failed media men, are claiming that the closure of this media firm is an attack on press freedom. It is simply an open-and-shut case of closing down a firm that has arrogantly been trampling on our Constitution.
It is entirely Lopez’s fault that ABS-CBN will be shut down. He should have acquired Filipino citizenship when he left his mediocre clerical job at a bank in San Francisco in 1986 and returned to the Philippines to run ABS-CBN.
Didn’t he bother to read the Constitution?
In the service of the Filipino, ABS-CBN’s slogan goes. With an American running it and getting hundreds of millions of pesos in income from it and with nearly a fourth of its capital owned by an American firm — both in violation of the Constitution — the more appropriate ABS-CBN slogan would be obvious: “In the service of Americans.”