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Lopez family didn't lose ownership of ABS-CBN even during Marcos martial law —counsel

The Lopez family did not lose ownership of ABS-CBN and its broadcast facilities even as the network was shut down when the Marcos martial law was declared in 1972, its counsel said Monday.

"Hindi nawalay ang pagmamay-ari ng Lopez family sa ABS-CBN at mga broadcast facilities and equipment even from the time that martial law was declared until today," said Atty. Arecio Rendor during the continuation of the House joint panel hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

The panel was discussing the issue of whether or or not the acquisition of ABS-CBN by the Lopez family after the EDSA Revolution in 1986 was pursuant to the Constitution.

According to Rendor, a title issued to the broadcast company in 1967 would show that the Lopez family did not lose ownership of the network even for a second.

"Kahit ang shares of stocks noong nagsimula ang ABS-CBN when it was incorporated ay hindi nawalay sa mga stockholders nito," he said.

What was taken from ABS-CBN, Rendor said, was the "mere possession" of all its real estate and broadcast equipment and rights to use its facilities following the declaration of martial law.

He noted that on June 8, 1973, a letter lease agreement was signed between ABS-CBN and RPN-9 that allows the latter to use the former's facilities.

"Kaya nga tinatawag na lease dahil hindi nawalay ang pag-aari ng ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. sa mga lupa at broadcast facilities," he pointed out.

After the EDSA Revolution in 1986, Rendor said the Lopez family allowed the administration of then-President Corazon Aquino to use its facilities and broadcast equipment while the country was still rebuilding at that time following the Marcos regime.

Then, on April 17, 1986, former Senator Lorenzo Tañada, then the counsel for ABS-CBN, wrote to President Corazon Aquino asking that the properties of ABS-CBN as well as its broadcast equipment be returned to the Lopez family after the crisis was over.

"This paved for the execution of the agreement to arbitrate on January 6, 1987. Several amendments thereto and supplements were likewise executed between the Cory administration and ABS-CBN so that the return of possession would be transparent and of record," Rendor said.

The agreement to arbitrate was even assailed by a group led by now Commission on Human Rights chair Chito Gascon before the Supreme Court, Rendor said, but the high tribunal upheld the deal, allowing the Aquino administration to return the ABS-CBN facilities to the Lopez family on a gradual basis.

In November 1993, during the Ramos administration, another agreement to arbitrate was executed to continue the previous agreements, Rendor said. The head of the Board of Arbitrators, then, was retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Amuerfina Melencio-Herrera.

Two years later, in May 1995, the Board of Arbitrators approved the compromise agreement, which was later upheld by the Regional Trial Court of Makati, he added.

"No appeal was ever filed on the said RTC judgment. The arbitration merely settled the reasonable compensation for the use of the real properties and equipment of ABS-CBN for a period of six years, from 1986 to 1992," Rendor said.

"Two administrations give imprimatur for the return of the possession of ABS-CBN of its real estate, properties and broadcast equipment, and even the Supreme Court, one validating the agreement to arbitrate, and another one for the factual circumstances, lends constitutionality to the return," he added.

Apart from the constitutionality of the return of ABS-CBN to Lopezes in 1986, other constitutional issues that the House joint panel was tackling related to the ABS-CBN franchise are the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez III, and the network's issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners.  —LDF, GMA News