Dual Citizenship by Birth

One of the burning issues raised by lawmakers opposed to the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise is the citizenship of the besieged media company’s chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III. They claim that ABS-CBN violated the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership and management of mass media because Lopez, who owned and ran the media giant since 1987, is a U.S. citizen. 

According to Wikipedia, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III was born on August 13, 1952 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the child of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr. and Conchita La’O, who were both Filipino citizens at the time of his birth. 

The determination of a person’s citizenship is based on the law in force at the time of birth. When Gabby Lopez was born the existing law that says who is a Filipino citizen is the 1935 Constitution. Under the 1935 Constitution, the following are citizens of the Philippines:

1. Those who are citizens of the Philippines at the time the 1935 Constitution was adopted;

2. Those born in the Philippines of foreign parents who, before the 1935 Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippines;

3. Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines;

4. Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship; and

5. Those who are naturalized as Filipino citizens.

Since Gabby Lopez was born of a Filipino father, he was a Filipino citizen at the time of his birth pursuant to number 3 above. He didn’t need to elect Philippine citizenship pursuant to number 4 above, because his father’s citizenship automatically vested in him Philippine citizenship. Election of Philippine citizenship means one files an affidavit with the appropriate government agency declaring an intention to become a Philippine citizen and taking an oath of allegiance. 

Gabby Lopez in fact acquired the highest form of Philippine citizenship, that of being a natural born citizen. A natural born citizen is one who is citizen of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his Philippine citizenship. 

What complicates Gabby Lopez’s case is the fact that he was born in the United States. Since the United States follows the principle of jus soli or birthright citizenship, anyone born within the United States is considered an American or U.S. citizen; hence, Gabby Lopez was also a U.S. citizen upon birth. The Philippines, on the other hand, follows the principle of jus sanguinis which says that one follows the citizenship of his parents regardless of the place of birth.

In other words Gabby Lopez was a citizen of both the Philippines and United States when he was born. He was a dual citizen by birth without having to do any act, which is different from one who acquired dual citizenship by applying to become a citizen of one country while retaining his citizenship in another country.

A simple illustration will show the difference between the two: A, who has a Filipino father, was born in the United States. Under Philippine law, A would be a Filipino citizen because his father is a Filipino; A would also be a U.S. citizen because he was born in the United States, which grants automatic citizenship to those born within the United States. But if A was born in the Philippines of Filipino parents he would only be a Philippine citizen.  If later on A migrates to the United States and becomes a U.S. citizen, he would automatically lose his Philippine citizenship (if done before 2003 or before the Dual Citizenship Law took effect). Now if A reapplies for and was granted Philippine citizenship without losing or renouncing his U.S. citizenship, A becomes a dual citizen also. In the first case, A was a dual citizen by birth; in the second case, A became a dual citizen not by birth but by doing certain acts.

Opponents of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal are harping on the fact that Gabby Lopez has been using a U.S. passport and applied for and was granted recognition of Philippine citizenship only in 2002. This, claim, violated the constitution by allowing ABS-CBN to be owned and managed by a U.S. citizen for several years.

This is muddling the issue and creating the false impression that Gabby Lopez only became a Philippine citizen in 2002 for several reasons. First, the use of a U.S. passport does not make one lose his Philippine citizenship (it should be noted that Gabby Lopez is a U.S. citizen so he has every right to use a U.S. passport and since he has no Philippine-issued birth certificate, he could not apply for a Philippine passport); second, the recognition of Lopez’s Philippine citizenship was not the act that conferred Philippine citizenship on him, but his birth by a Filipino father; and third, the recognition of Philippine citizenship is only an affirmation of one’s citizenship.

Gabby Lopez’s U.S. citizenship notwithstanding, he is a natural born Filipino citizen who is entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a Philippine citizen. Unlike in running for or being appointed to a public office, there is no requirement for renunciation of foreign citizenship by a dual citizen in the ownership and management of mass media. 

Dual citizenship, especially if it is by accident of birth as in Gabby Lopez’s case, is not something that is frowned upon, much less prohibited, under our laws. In fact, dual citizenship is now explicitly recognized and encouraged with the passage into law of Republic Act No. 9225 or the Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003. 

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