GOTCHA – Jarius Bondoc
House hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise last week dwelt on history. Former network GM Jake Almeda-Lopez, 92, was told to recount events of Feb. 1986. Hostile congressmen demanded to hear how Cory Aquino’s government returned the broadcast facility to the Lopez clan.
At once Almeda-Lopez retorted that it was the other way around: the Lopezes turned over the network for Cory’s use. Marcos had grabbed ABS-CBN from the Lopezes (no relation to Almeda-Lopez) in 1972. Fourteen years later during the EDSA Revolt, as Marcos loyalist troops deserted, Almeda-Lopez and ex-employees retook control of the compound from the dictatorship. Re-broadcasting, they reported the flight of the Marcoses to Hawaii. Then they lent the facilities to the triumphant Cory forces to help restore order.
What preceded those events? Some answers are in my column of Dec. 19, 2008, “SC Verdict Rewrites Established History”, reprinted here:
Just before midnight of 22 Sept. 1972 soldiers stormed media offices nationwide with orders to padlock till further notice. Congress and the Constitutional Convention were shut down. President Marcos secretly had signed martial law the day before, though he would announce it only three days later. Thousands of critics were jailed in the following months, and hundreds of businesses seized. Agents were deployed to spy on opposition moves. Marcos prolonged his term 14 years, using guns and guile to stifle dissent and amass untold wealth. Cronies partook of the plunder.
Everyone at least in his teens then knows that 1972-1986 are among the darkest years in Filipino history. It was a period of fear and submission, interrupted only by the sacrifice of a few martyrs, till people rose in revolt at EDSA and elsewhere. Then the Filipino regained dignity.
A Supreme Court verdict can have the effect of reversing that chapter of recent past. One of its divisions has ruled that Marcos’s secret decrees were valid, as were contracts to legitimize business snatchings. Even arrests, tortures and killings could be deemed okay, because covered by a martial law declaration and ensuing orders. The fight for indemnity of 10,000 victims of torment could be overturned.
The SC case concerns one of the networks that Marcos grabbed: ABS-CBN of Eugenio Lopez Sr. That night in 1972 raiders sent away all personnel from the Broadcast Center in Quezon City. Seven television and 21 radio stations were seized. Included were land and edifices, towers, transmitters, broadcast gadgets, studios, record and film libraries, and vehicles. Pretext for it was Letter of Instruction No. 1, in which Marcos authorized the defense secretary “to take over and control all newspapers, magazines, radio-television facilities, and other media.”
Marcos also abolished the Vice Presidency held by Eugenio Sr.’s brother Fernando Lopez. Clamped down was their newspaper, Manila Chronicle. Occupied was Meralco electric utility, which they had bought from American founders decades before. Eugenio Jr. (Geny) was then training to be ABS-CBN top man, with brother Oscar and college buddy Jake Almeda-Lopez. When the network stayed shut for months with no clear chance of reopening, Geny sadly let go of the staff. Marcos brother-in-law Kokoy Romualdez then pressured Eugenio Sr. to hand over all Lopez businesses for a song. The old man hedged. To up the ante, the regime had Geny imprisoned in Nov. 1972 on trumped-up charges. Then on 3 June 1973 fire razed the KBS studios, the only radio-TV service at the time because owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto. Within hours Benedicto got ABS-CBN chair Alfredo Montelibano to lend him the Lopez broadcast facilities, as Marcos wished. Broadly hinted was that Geny’s freedom depended on it.
So it came to pass: with Geny hostaged, Romualdez took over Meralco and the Chronicle press; Benedicto got ABS-CBN.
Upon occupying the Lopez network on 8 June 1973 Benedicto’s men went on air as KBS. They signed with the hapless Montelibano a lease agreement. Rent was to be discussed only when Benedicto returned from Japan months later. No amount was ever tabled, however. Oscar tried to meet with the Marcos crony several times to collect and complain about the misuse of Lopez property, but was rebuffed. KBS simply operated the ABS-CBN equipment, aired its films and records, and used its spare parts and vehicles — all for free. Benedicto even expanded affiliate RPN, and put up another network, BBC, piggybacking on the Lopez assets for six-and-a-half years. In Jan. 1980 on Marcos’s behest, Benedicto turned over the Lopez network to the dictator’s propaganda arm, the National Media Production Center.
After the EDSA Revolt a new government slowly returned the Lopez firms. In 1994 ABS-CBN, the brothers Geny and Oscar, and Jake Almeda-Lopez charged Benedicto and cohorts before the Ombudsman. Apart from civil damages, the victims sued for robbery, execution of deed by means of violence and intimidation, fraud, usurpation of rights to real property, and other acts of deceit. The Ombudsman then was one-time judge advocate in Marcos’s military. Only late the next year did an investigation report issue — against the Lopezes. Supposedly Marcos’s Letter of Instruction No. 1 was legal, and that the signed lease agreement was proof that the ABS-CBN takeover was in order. Too, the Ombudsman said Benedicto already was immune from suit due to a 1991 compromise with the government, although it did not include the Lopezes. Lastly, the family was told to stop ranting because it has recovered ABS-CBN anyway. Case dismissed.
To the Supreme Court the Lopezes appealed. Geny and Benedicto passed away as the case pended. In Oct. (2008) a division of five justices upheld the Ombudsman’s disregard of Geny’s coercive incarceration in the network grab. The remaining Lopezes have asked the en banc to reverse the decision, if only to set history aright.
(Interested readers can check out this separate account: https://news.abs-cbn.com/ancx/culture/spotlight/06/18/20/ruthless-people-how-marcos-and-his-cronies-took-abs-cbn-from-the-lopezes)
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