By Genshen L. Espedido, Reporter

ABS-CBN Corp.’s Chairman Emeritus Eugenio Gabriel L. Lopez III said during a joint hearing at the House of Representatives that he would give up his American citizenship if it “came down to conflict of interest” regarding his management of the network.

Asked by Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Michael T. Defensor if he considered renouncing his American citizenship, Mr. Lopes replied: “Yes, I have considered it. But you know, the way I see it, I am first and foremost Filipino. I will live and die in the Philippines, that has certainly been the family’s position. If it came down to conflict of interest, I would give up my US citizenship in a minute.”

Meanwhile, the majority of lawmakers who questioned his citizenship were convinced that he is Filipino.

Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said that Mr. Lopez never lost his Filipino citizenship despite being born in the US and holding an American passport.

Ang kanyang paggamit ng US passport ay hindi dahilan para mawala ang kanyang Filipino citizenship. At ang hindi niya pagkakaroon ng Philippine passport ay hindi rin dahilan para hindi siya maging Pilipino,” she said during the joint hearing of the House committees on legislative franchises, and good government and public accountability.

(His use of a US passport is not a reason to lose his Filipino citizenship. And his not having a Philippine passport is also not a reason for him not to be a Filipino.)

Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman said that Mr. Lopez’s citizenship is a non-issue because he is “undeniably a natural born Filipino citizen.”

“I submit that the allegation that former ABS-CBN President and Chairman Eugenio Lopez III is an American citizen is a non-issue because he is undeniably a natural born Filipino citizen, having been born of a Filipino father as well as a Filipino mother. No amount of interpellations would change this overriding and unalterable fact,” he said.

Despite acknowledging Mr. Lopez’s Filipino citizenship, Ako Bicol Party-List Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin questioned whether a dual citizen can own a mass media company.

“Gabby Lopez is a natural born citizen, but he is also an American citizen by principle applied in American law. Ang tanong ho ba, whether a dual citizen can own a mass media company?” Ako Bicol Party-List Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin said.

Mr. Lopez’s lawyer Mario L. Bautista said the 1987 Constitution does not prohibit a dual citizen from owning a media company.

“Ni minsan po, wala po kaming narinig na question o reklamo from the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) or from the DoJ (Department of Justice), who are vested the jurisdiction, authority, and most importantly, the expertise with respect to the nationalization law. Wala pong nagsasabi sa amin na kapag dual citizen ka, ‘di puwede,” he said.

(Not once have we heard of a question or complaint from the SEC or the DoJ, who are vested the jurisdiction, authority, and most importantly, the expertise with respect to the nationalization law. We have never been told that a dual citizen is prohibited.)

The two panels were tackling Mr. Lopez’s citizenship to aid their decision whether to give a new franchise to ABS-CBN. The 1987 Constitution states that media companies should be 100% Filipino-owned.

The next hearing on the network’s franchise will tackle the issue on Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs). Solicitor General Jose C. Calida’s quo warranto petition claimed that the network violated the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it issued PDRs to foreigners through ABS-CBN Holding Corp.

The House committees will convene again on June 8.