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Widening the door for the foreign citizen kabayan

(Article published in the Nov 9,2005 issue of Manila Standard Today)

              R.A. No. 9225, known as the “Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003”, declared it a state policy that “all Philippine citizens who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship…”  It is the first open recognition that, if I may paraphrase a catchy cigarette commercial of yesteryears, you can take the Filipino out of his country, but you can’t take his country out of the Filipino.  Not even if he had, of his own free will, become a citizen of another country.

           The short statute has three core principles.  The first is that, under Section 3, natural-born citizens who have lost their Philippine citizenship because of their naturalization as citizens of foreign countries are deemed to have reacquired Philippine citizenship upon taking the oath of allegiance provided in the law itself.  Similarly, natural-born citizens who will become citizens of a foreign country, after the law takes effect, retain their Philippine citizenship upon taking the same oath. 

           The second is that the children under 18 years of age of those who reacquire Philippine citizenship upon the effectivity of the law shall also be deemed to be citizens of the Philippines.

           And the third is that those who retain or reacquire Philippine citizenship under the law shall enjoy full civil and political rights and be subject to all attendant liabilities and responsibilities, under certain conditions.  Those conditions are, as a whole, no more than measures to ensure that those benefited by the law are not more favored than those who remained citizens all along.    










 

         The first set of implementing rules and regulations, contained issued on 10 March 2004 by Commissioner of Immigration, Alipio F. Fernandez, Jr. and approved by then acting Secretary of Justice and presently a strong contender for the position of Ombudsman, Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez, was published, as required in at least two (2) newspapers of general circulation, in the same month.  But despite the law being in effect since April 2004, the expected droves have not come to take their oaths of allegiance.  Last month, after identifying the various choke-points that impeded the inward traffic of our kabayans, the Department of Justice is giving the red carpet a new sheen.

           The revised rules, articulated in Memorandum Circular No. AFF.05-002, seek to encourage a higher turn-out of applicants by (a) simplifying the process of reacquiring or retaining citizenship, (b) easing the evidentiary requirements to establish that the applicants were natural-born Filipinos, and (c) decentralizing the authority to approve applications.

           Section 4 of the revised rules tells an applicant what to state in his or her petition: (a) full name as shown the foreign naturalization certificate or foreign passport; (b) latest forwarding address; (c) date and place of birth and civil status; (d) name and citizenship of parents as of the time of the applicant’s birth; (e) name, date and place of birth of children under 18 years of age; and (f) two (2) recent photographs.

           The petition should be verified (i.e. applicant must specifically swear to personal knowledge of the truth of what is written in the petition) and, if the applicant had previously registered as an alien with the Bureau of Immigration, the petition should also request of the cancellation of the relevant Alien Certificate of Registration, Immigrant Certificate of Residence, or Certificate of Residence for Temporary Visitors.

           Proving that one was a natural-born citizen, for the purpose of availing oneself of the benefits of the law, has become easier.  The implementing authority has graciously extended to the applicant the prima facie presumption of having been a natural-born citizen.  Thus, unless otherwise proven, the applicant who is a Filipino has the right to be initially considered natural-born.

           To make the presumption kick-in, the applicant is given a wider range than before of evidentiary documents to submit.  Any one of the following suffices: (a) Philippine birth certificate; (b) old Philippine passport; (c) voter’s affidavit or voter’s ID; (d) marriage contract indicating the Philippine citizenship of the applicant; or (e) any other document that would show that the applicant was a former natural born citizen of the Philippines as may be acceptable to the evaluating officer. 

           The common problem of discrepancy in the name of the applicant appearing in the submitted documents such as, for instance, a difference from what is written in the birth certificate and which is stated in the passport, is specially addressed in Section 7 of the rules.  The affected applicant is permitted to address the discrepancy by executing an explanatory affidavit, attaching thereto at least two (2) public or private documents showing his or her correct name.

           Originals which were rigidly required to be submitted under the old rules still need to be presented.  However, instead of being left with the receiving office, they simply have to be presented for examination, and what is required to be left with the rest of the records is simply a faithful copy which is marked by the evaluation officer as “original seen and verified.”

           The qualification process is eschewed towards giving the applicant all the opportunity to prove he was a natural-born citizen.  At the document evaluation level, if the evaluating officer has reasonable doubts, he may require the submission of additional documents.  If the petition is sufficient in form and substance, the evaluating officer must submit his findings and recommendations to the approving authority within five (5) days from the date it was assigned to him.  At the level of the approving authority, if the documents appear to be insufficient, the applicant is notified to submit what is required within thirty (30) days from receipt. 

           The applicant’s child, by blood or by adoption, who is below 18 years of age is considered to have reacquired Philippine citizenship at the time the applicant-parent reacquires Philippine citizenship provided the child was listed in the petition.  If the child is 18 years or over at the time the parent reacquires Philippine citizenship, he too can be considered natural-born. But the child must apply on his own (and not be part of the parent’s application) and must show that at the time of his own birth his father or mother was Filipino. 

           Convenience of the applicant based abroad is the purpose of the third change introduced by the new rules.  Under both the old and new rules, petitions of those in the Philippines are processed and approved by the Commissioner of Immigration. However, if the applicant is based abroad, then the application is made at the nearest Philippine Foreign Post.

           The Philippine Foreign Post, under the old rules, was limited to receiving and evaluating the applications.  Thereafter, the records had to be forwarded to Manila for approval.  Under the new rules, the Philippine Foreign Post receives the petition together with the supporting documents (plus of course the filing fees), conducts the evaluation, and approves the petition.  The consul-general performs the counter-part functions that the Commissioner of Immigration plays with respect to applicants based in the Philippines and is thus the person who issues the Order of Approval indicating that the petition complies with the provisions of R.A. No. 9225 and its implementing rules and regulations.  The Oath of Allegiance, which is the final act that confers Philippine citizenship, continues to be administered, for those aboad, by the consul-general or a duly commissioned foreign service officer of the post concerned.

           Only time will tell whether the new rules will, as hoped, bring in significantly more of our kabayans who had become citizens of another country.  True, Memorandum Circular No. AFF.05-002 has opened the door wider for them to easily enter.  But then, can we assure them that, upon entering, they will find our house in order?

              

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