TURNING POINT: ABS-CBN:  Entertaining Live

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 16 June) — The franchise issue of ABS-CBN has become a national participatory entertainment, amusing everyone, especially the netizens, at no cost to the Network. The debate on the grant of franchise to ABS-CBN continues to rage, on the verge of the inane and the ridiculous, in official and unofficial fora.

The citizenship of the former network honcho, Gabby Lopez appears the main issue bannered by those opposed to the franchise renewal. The Quo Warranto petition filed with the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida in effect asserts that there’s no franchise to renew because it was non-existing at all;  Lopez is not a Filipino and was not qualified to have it, and the franchise granted to ABS-CBN in his name as chair is, therefore, null and void ab initio. The TV Network should be closed. House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta also insists Lopez is a US citizen and could not own mass media in the Philippines. To disprove Lopez’s Filipino citizenship, Marcoleta even tasked Lopez to recite the first line of Panatang Makabayan.

Notwithstanding the fracas and inanities, the facts are nonetheless established. Gabby Lopez was born of Filipino parents and by Philippine Constitution is a natural born Filipino citizen. He was born in US soil and by US law is a natural born US citizen. Gabby Lopez cannot be faulted for being a natural born citizen of both countries and will remain as such until he renounces one or the other.

Now comes to Lopez the issue of mass media ownership.

Article XII, Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution is explicit:

“No franchise, certificate, or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations organized under the laws of the Philippines, at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens; nor shall such franchise, certificate, or authorization be exclusive in character or for a longer period than fifty years…”

A little knowledge of the English language and composition tells you that above provision of the Constitution simply means that the grant of a franchise to operate a public utility in this country is reserved to Filipino citizens and for Filipinos alone, that is, no alien or foreign entity can operate or be among them as operators, stockholders or owners of the same.

Some of those opposed to AB-CBN franchise renewal brought to the arena the inane concept of purity in citizenship, arguing that a franchise on mass media can only be granted to a pure or 100% Filipino citizen(s). Since Lopez has a dual citizenship he is not 100% Filipino. This is ludicrous because there is no such thing as percentage citizenship anywhere in the world, that is, a person can be 50% citizen of one country and 50% citizen of  another, or at a percent ratio of citizenship, say, 75-25% or whatever. No way. A person is either a citizen of a country or not. A question in determining citizenship is answerable by yes or no, such as follows: Are you a citizen of the Philippines or not?

Meanwhile, a person of dual citizenship is a citizen of the two countries that allow it.

With his dual citizenship can Lopez own or operate a public utility?

Yes, because he a Filipino regardless of his dual citizenship. Moreover, the present Constitution does not specifically prohibit ownership of a public utility of a Filipino of dual citizenship.  Unless and until the constitution is amended and has enshrined such prohibition, or a law is crafted for the purpose, a citizen like Gabby Lopez cannot be legally deprived of the privilege.

Some also equate or confuse dual citizenship and dual allegiance, the former allowed by law but the latter is prohibited because it is inimical to national interest. A citizenship by birth does not require any act, such as performing allegiance, to perfect it. Some are egging Lopez to renounce his land of birth because he accordingly cannot serve two masters at the same time, and if only to remove once and for all  the fog  on his Filipino citizenship. Along this, a hypothetical question was raised: In case of conflict between the US and the Philippines, which side will Mr. Lopez be?

Suffice it to say, that whatever is the hypothetical answer to the hypothetical question would not impact on franchise renewal or media ownership issue. Also, the situation contemplated by the hypothetical question may not exist at all in the real world.

The citizenship debate particularly in the social media has been muddled by such issue as tax payment and participation in elections. Payment or non-payment of taxes or participating or not in elections as a voter won’t lose your citizenship of birth. Even imprisonment for tax evasion or more serious crimes other than treason, or the execution of a convict cannot cancel a naturally endowed citizenship.

The offspring of Filipino citizens are already decreed Filipino citizens even before their birth.  An unfortunate child of this couple who is blind, deaf and mute at birth is a Filipino citizen regardless. Thus, a natural-born Filipino’s inability to spell correctly “Philippines” or “Filipino” or sing the national anthem or recite the “Panatang Makabayan” won’t deprive him his citizenship.  Unless he deliberately, or by some consequent act, renounces his citizenship, a natural born citizen remains a citizen till death and beyond. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)