House leader: Dual citizens shouldn’t own media firms

Mike Defensor

A HOUSE leader on Thursday said Filipinos who hold foreign citizenship should not be allowed to own or manage any media entity in the country.

“Consistent with the national interest and largely for national security reasons, the Constitution requires 100-percent Filipino ownership of media. The Charter also bans dual allegiance by any Filipino,” said Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor chairman of the House committee on public accounts.

Defensor conceded that the constitutional provision on 100-percent Filipino ownership of media does not specifically ban dual citizens from owning or managing a media entity.

But the spirit of that provision, read together with the prohibition against dual allegiance, dictates that a Filipino who is at the same time a citizen of another country should not be allowed to own or manage a media company, he said.

“Imagine a Filipino who is also a Chinese citizen and who owns or runs a television station or a newspaper at this time when the Philippines and China are engaged in a tug-of-war over the West Philippine Sea. Which side he would take? Which country’s interest would he protect?,” Defensor asked.

ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III found himself in the hot seat Wednesday as lawmakers grilled him over his citizenship, which is one of the major issues hounding the franchise of the country’s largest media conglomerate.

Members of the House committees on legislative franchises and on good government and public accountability took turns asking Lopez tough
questions about his citizenship amid allegations his previous leadership of ABS-CBN and ownership of company shares allegedly violated the Constitution and terms of the network’s previous franchise.

Lopez, 68, through his counsel Mario Bautista, admitted he has dual citizenship status—as Filipino citizen having been born to Filipino parents and an American citizen by virtue of his being born in the United States (US). He is also a holder of Philippine and U.S. passports.

That is the situation the requirement on 100-percent Filipino ownership of media and the prohibition on dual allegiance seek to
prevent, Defensor stressed.

The House leader pointed out that the same media ownership provision requires that a cooperative or corporation that owns or runs a media entity should be “wholly-owned” by Filipinos.

“For me, wholly-owned means completely, entirely owned by Filipinos. This means that dual citizens cannot be media owners. In fact, if you stretch the interpretation of that provision, the ban would apply to owning even a single share in a media company,” he said.

Defensor and other congressmen raised the issue of 100-percent media ownership, dual citizenship and dual allegiance on Monday in the course of the hearing of the House committee on legislative franchises on the proposed grant of a fresh 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN. Defensor and his colleagues said there was no question that Lopez is a Filipino and an American citizen.

“The issue is, whether he, as a Filipino-American, is allowed to own shares in ABS-CBN, whether his chairmanship and stewardship of the network for many years was consistent with the provision on 100-percent Filipino ownership,” he said.

During the hearing, Defensor asked Lopez if he considered giving up his American citizenship during his long years of service with ABS-CBN to be fully compliant with the Constitution and to erase doubt on his allegiance.

The ABS-CBN official responded that if conflict of interest arose, he would give up his American passport “in a minute.”

Lopez said he knows in his heart that he is a Filipino, and that his being an American citizen was never an issue as far as his ABS-CBN job was concerned.