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Naturalization outside the courts ends in 2003

(Article published in the April 29, 2002 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

A window opened last year by an excellent piece of legislation will be shut next year. And because the law is not being given adequate publicity, hardly anyone of its special beneficiaries may end up enjoying its privileges.

The law is the Administrative Naturalization Law of 2000 (Republic Act No. 9139). Although intended generally for those who meet its requirements, RA 9139 has a special benefit for aliens, such as those born here of soldiers staying in the former US bases, whose births were not registered in the Philippine city or municipality of their births: they have only two years from the time law took effect in 2001 to file a petition for administrative acquisition of Philippine citizenship.

Children of foreigners who were born in the Philippines and who have decided to remain here and who now want to be citizens of our country, need not go to the tedious process of judicial naturalization. If they have the qualifications and none of the disqualifications, a simple process before the Special Committee on Naturalization, composed of the solicitor general, chairman, and the secretary of foreign affairs and national security adviser, members, will grant them Filipino citizenship in about six months (my generous estimate which even takes into account the government’s four-day workweek).

The qualifications and disqualifications follow the same lines of judicial naturalization. The applicant must have been born in the Philippines (they are the special targets), not less than 18 of age (no longer a minor and therefore, contrary to the experience of some, can think for themselves), of good moral character (even if only of the same moral fiber as some congressmen and senators), received primary and secondary education in Philippine schools, gainfully employed in a lawful trade, business or occupation, able to read and write in Filipino or any Philippine dialect; and must have mingled with Filipinos and desired to embrace the customs, traditions and ideals of the Filipino people (but not fiesta mood, crab mentality, maņana habit?).

Among those who are not qualified, however, are those opposed to organized government, advocates of violence, personal assault or assassination for the success of their ideas, polygamists (but not, for the legislators’ own obscure reasons, bigamists), those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude, those suffering from mental alienation or incurable contagious diseases, citizens of countries with which the Philippines is at war, and citizens or subjects of countries which allow Filipinos to be in turn naturalized there.

The process is not complicated. The applicant files his application with the Special Committee on Naturalization. There is nothing special about the committee; what is special is the administrative process, which is a welcome alternative to the usual judicial process. His petition must contain the necessary disclosures to enable the government to do its due diligence on his background as well as the usual disclaimers of being a liability to the government and expressions of desire to be Filipino, and is accompanied by supporting documents.

In addition, the applicant pays a processing fee (the term used by Section 7) or filing fee (the term used by Section 16). Regardless of the name you want to call it, the amount is P40,000. But not all that goes to the UP Law Center, which has absolutely nothing to do with the process of administrative naturalization but which may or may not have been asked to draft the bill that became the law, and another twenty-five percent is allotted for the publication of the Journal of the House of Representatives, thereby recognizing that the entries in that journal are not fit to be fully paid for by our tax money.

If the Committee finds the petition complete in form and substance, it orders the publication of pertinent portions of the petition once a week for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation as well as the posting in a public or conspicuous area. The usual government agencies who ought to know whether the applicant is qualified or not, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration, the civil registrar of the applicant’s residence, and the National Bureau of Investigation, are given copies of the petition. Those agencies are required to report, within 15 days of receipt of the petition, any derogatory record on file or such material information that is adverse to the applicant.

Within 60 days from receipt of the reports or the last day of publication of the petition (after all, the government agencies may decide not to submit any report so as not disturb their long week-ends), the Committee formally considers the petition during which the applicant may be asked to show up for interview. During the interview, he is allowed to cough, but is not expected to cough up, even if he is subject of a derogatory report. He will, of course, be permitted to answer, explain or refute any damaging information.

After the hearing, the applicant must have P100,000 available which must be all paid within thirty days from receipt of notice that his petition has been approved. Fifty percent is supposed to be paid upon approval of the petition (obviously, the law expects the applicant to be daily on the alert for the result of his application) and the balance within the thirty day period. In 60 days from approval of petition or full payment, the petitioner takes his oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.

The alien lawful wife of the applicant and his minor children (the law does not require that those children be by his lawful wife) may then file a petition, also with the Committee, for the cancellation of their alien certificates of registration. But the husband of the applicant will not benefit from the naturalization of the wife-applicant. He remains an alien, but the naturalized wife’s minor children (again, the law does not say children by her husband) may file for the cancellation of their alien certificates of registration.

Once a naturalized Filipino, the petitioner cannot behave like the rest of Filipinos. His naturalization may be cancelled when, aside from the standard reasons like fraud in his application or abandonment by returning to his citizenship of origin, he allows himself to be used as a dummy or commits any act inimical to national security.

There are no reports of backlog in the applications for administrative naturalization filed with the committee, undoubtedly because the law has not been sufficiently publicized. Some who are qualified may, of course, take their time. But those whose births are not registered with the proper city or municipal registrar should hurry up. After the lapse of two years from 2001, when the law took effect, they would find it most difficult to comply with the number one requirement in their petitions. The law requires applications to be accompanied by, among other documents, a duplicate original or certified photocopies of the applicants’ birth certificate.