[EXPLAINER] Manila Times 'exposé' grossly false about Gabby Lopez's citizenship

On March 25, 2020, Manila Times dropped an “exclusive” article by Jomar Canlas, headlining that ABS-CBN Corporation chairman emeritus Eugenio Gabriel “Gabby” Lopez III “did not renounce his US citizenship when he became chairman of the company.”

The article offers the following information:

  1. That, based on the copy of Gabby Lopez’s birth certificate which they acquired, he was born in Boston on August 13, 1952.
  2. That his parents, Eugenio López Jr and Conchita La’O, were both Filipino.
  3. That Gabby Lopez was issued a US passport in 1996, and it was the same year he assumed the chairmanship of ABS-CBN.
  4. That, on October 3, 2000, the Manila Times claimed that Gabby Lopez “applied” for Philippine citizenship when he wrote then-immigration commissioner Rufus Rodriguez, stating: “I am respectfully requesting for recognition as a Filipino citizen and the issuance of a Certificate of Recognition pursuant to the rules of the Bureau of Immigration.”
  5. That, finally, this document, among others, “indicate that it took Lopez 14 years after becoming an officer of ABS-CBN to decide to become a Filipino citizen.”

The basic assumption of the article, and many of those who shared it, is that Gabby Lopez was not born Filipino (and therefore shouldn't have been running a media company), and that he only became Filipino when he was issued a Certificate of Recognition by the Bureau of Immigration.

These assumptions are without basis in law, thus, grossly false. 

Under the 1987 Constitution, one becomes a Filipino either by birth or by naturalization. For a person to become citizen by birth, the Constitution requires that either the mother or the father must be Filipino. In other words, citizenship is a consequence of paternity or maternity, regardless of where one is born or the circumstances of one’s birth. In law, this is called jus sanguinis, which is Latin for “right of blood” – a system carried over from the Spanish colonial regime.  

Under this rule, a son of an overseas Filipino worker in Italy is considered a natural-born Filipino even if he has not stepped in the Philippines. In the same manner, a friend who was born, raised, and studied in Manila cannot be considered Filipino because both of his parents are Taiwanese.  

Prior to the 1987 Constitution, the 1973 and 1935 constitutions also adopted the jus sanguinis principle. Their main difference from the present charter is their provision that only the male parent could transmit his citizenship. The past constitutions say, “[T]hose whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines” are considered citizens of the Philippines, without mention of the mother. 

In the case of Gabby Lopez, he was born in Boston on August 13, 1952, under the regime of the 1935 Constitution. By virtue of its jus sanguinis rule, Gabby is considered a natural-born Filipino since his father, Eugenio López Jr, is Filipino. 

The source of the confusion for many is the fact that, when Gabby was born in Boston, he also accidentally acquired American citizenship by virtue of the fact that he was born in American soil under their jus soli or “right of soil” principle. According to this principle, the citizenship of a person is determined by the place where he was born.

In other words, Gabby, without performing any act, was simultaneously considered a national by both the Philippines and the United States. Being a dual citizen, he is entitled to all benefits arising from his two citizenships. For example, he can legally hold two passports and use them simultaneously. 

While this scenario is inherently repugnant to the general principle that a citizen can only be loyal to one state and that his allegiance must be indivisible, this is tolerated as we have no control over the laws on citizenship of other countries. A child cannot be made to suffer over circumstances beyond his control. 

Thus, contrary to the assumption of Mr Canlas, the fact that Gabby has also acquired American citizenship didnt diminish or cancel his Philippine citizenship. Philippine citizenship, once acquired either by birth or naturalization, can only be lost on the grounds listed in Section 1 of Commonwealth Act 63. Unless any of these grounds are proven in court, Philippine citizenship is presumed and it should never be a question. What is crystal clear is that holding dual citizenship or a holding another passport as consequence of it are not grounds in Commonwealth Act 63.

Also, it must be noted in Gabby’s carefully-worded letter to the Bureau of Immigration that what he sought was a “recognition” that he is Filipino. He did not ask to be a Filipino. It was also not a case of naturalization, as others would claim. He was just claiming his birthright and asking the Philippine government to affirm it. Law Instruction No. RBR-99002 of the Bureau of Immigration itself describes the process of recognition as available to “any child born of a Filipino parent who seek to be recognized as a Filipino citizen under existing laws.”

Is there also a need for him to renounce his American citizenship to be considered Filipino? There is no law that requires him to do this. Gabby’s Philippine citizenship is full, complete, and perfect as it is.

The citation of Republic Act 9225 by some quarters is also misplaced, as the law doesnt apply to him. The law covers a very specific scenario where a natural-born citizen who lost his Philippine citizenship by seeking naturalization in a foreign country is seeking to reacquire the same under its provisions. This is a case of elective or voluntary type of dual citizenship, not the involuntary type as in the case of Gabby. 

In the end, everyone, especially media entities, should be very careful in purveying false and inaccurate information. Our laws on citizenship are simple and easy to understand. A simple fact checking or a call to a lawyer who knows his basic constitutional law would have easily revealed the grave falsities of the news article. Hopefully, this explainer can avert the confusion the news report caused among the general public, especially the many who are similarly situated as Mr Lopez. – Rappler.com 

Emil Marañon III is an election lawyer specializing in automated election litigation and consulting. He is one of the election lawyers consulted by the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo. Marañon served in Comelec as chief of staff of retired Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. He graduated from the SOAS, University of London, where he studied Human Rights, Conflict, and Justice as a Chevening scholar. He is a partner at Trojillo Ansaldo and Marañon (TAM) Law Offices.