Enrile echoes ABS-CBN: Lopezes did not lose ownership during Martial Law takeover

Mara Cepeda

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Enrile echoes ABS-CBN: Lopezes did not lose ownership during Martial Law takeover
Martial Law implementer Juan Ponce Enrile tells lawmakers that though the Marcos regime took over ABS-CBN, the title of the facilities 'remained with the owners'

MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the chief implementer of Martial Law, said ownership of ABS-CBN stayed with the Lopez family even if the Marcos government took over the network at the time. 

On Wednesday, June 17, Enrile gave his testimony before lawmakers on the sequestration of ABS-CBN during the dictatorship of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. 

“The facilities of the entire ABS-CBN complex, broadcast complex was placed under the control of the government. The title of all of these facilities were never transferred to the government. They remained with the owners,” said Enrile. 

Soldiers had seized and padlocked ABS-CBN on September 22, 1972, upon the orders of Marcos, who would later appear on national television to declare Martial Law. The late strongman’s first letter of instruction ordered the closure of all radio and television stations nationwide.

ABS-CBN would reopen only in 1986 after the EDSA People Power Revolution toppled Marcos. Enrile told lawmakers on Wednesday that he issued an order lifting the sequestration of ABS-CBN in the same year.  

“In February 26, 1986, I, as secretary of national defense and sequestrator of ABS-CBN and all the other television, radio, and communications facilities in the country, issued an order to lift the sequestration of ABS-CBN. And that was the last time that I had any contact or involvement with ABS-CBN,” Enrile said. 

The House committees on legislative franchises as well as good government and public accountability continued its joint hearings on the issues hounding the grant of franchise to ABS-CBN, which the National Telecommunications Commission ordered to close down after its legislative franchise expired on May 4. 

Lawmakers are still deliberating whether or not the Lopez family’s reacquisition of ABS-CBN after the revolution was constitutional. 

But ABS-CBN executives and their lawyers have already argued during the hearing on Monday, June 15, that the Lopez clan did not lose ownership of the station when Marcos took over in 1972. 

Arbitration agreement with Aquino gov’t

In the same hearing, ABS-CBN vice chairman Augusto Almeda-Lopez insisted the network was not returned to the family by Marcos’ successor, ex-president Corazon Aquino. Rather, he said the clan took it back themselves after Marcos’ ouster.

“Pumapayag kaming gamitin ng forces ni Cory Aquino at ni Ponce Enrile during the crisis period. Ganyan po ang nangyari niyan…. Hindi sinauli sa amin ng Cory government ang istasyon; kami ang nagpahiram sa Cory government,” said Almeda-Lopez.

(We agreed for the forces of Cory Aquino and Ponce Enrile to use the facilities during the crisis period. That’s what happened there…. The Cory government did not return the station to us; we lent it to the Cory government.)

Now 95 years old, Almeda-Lopez was general manager of ABS-CBN before Marcos shut down the network in 1972. He was imprisoned for two years for joining protest activities against the incarceration of then ABS-CBN president Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr during Martial Law. Though they share last names, the two are not related by blood.

According to Almeda-Lopez, the Lopez family allowed the Aquino administration to use the network’s facilities while the country was still in “crisis” in the wake of Marcos’ 21-year dictatorship. 

On April 17, 1986, the Lopezes then moved to reacquire ABS-CBN, leading to an arbitration agreement with the Aquino government on January 6, 1987. Under this agreement – which the Supreme Court upheld in 1989 – the government paid ABS-CBN P97 million worth of tax and rental exemptions.

“We went into arbitration because of the desire of both parties – of the Malacañang group and the Lopez group – that let us present this to a neutral body and let them be the ones to tell us what to do, to resolve this problem,” Almeda-Lopez said.  

Legislators who are against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise have long been claiming the network is foreign owned, and have accused the network of violating provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

The media giant, however, already argued the Philippine Depositary Receipts sold by ABS-CBN Holdings to foreign companies did not give these firms the right to own or manage the network. 

ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez also said he is a dual citizen of the Philippines and the United States, but he never renounced his Philippine citizenship nor took the United States pledge of allegiance. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.