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The law on dual citizenship

(Article published in the Sep 1,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

“When I was a boy,” sings the King of Siam, “what was so was so and what was not was not”.  So it was when we were taking up law under such revered mentors of political law as Court of Appeals Justice Jesus Y. Perez and Supreme Court Justice Conrado Sanchez.

Allegiance was “the main integrate element” of citizenship (Tan Chong v. Sec. of Labor, 79 Phil 257). Thus, traditional wisdom dictated that “dual nationality is universally recognized as an undesirable phenomenon.  It inevitably results in questionable loyalties and leads to international conflicts.  Dual nationality also makes possible the use of citizenship as badge of convenience rather than of undivided loyalty.  And it impairs the singleness of commitment which is the hallmark of citizenship and allegiance.” (Gordon and Rosenfield, Immigration Law and Procedure, v. 4, Nationality, pp.11-12)

That “singleness of commitment” among us Filipinos will undoubtedly be subjected to a stress test with the signing of the “Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003 by President Arroyo.” 

The Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003, in essence, repeals an old rule in a 1936 law which provides that a Filipino citizen loses his citizenship by naturalization in a foreign country (Sec. 1(1), C.A. No. 63).  Instead the new policy of the state is that all Philipine citizens who become citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship provided they fulfill the conditions set forth in the law.

The conditions are not at all hard to meet.  Section 3 permits a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who has lost his or her Philippine citizenship by reason of naturalization as a citizen of a foreign country to be deemed to have reacquired Philippine citizenship by simply taking the prescribed oath of allegiance to the Republic, without the need to add the modifier “Strong” to “Republic”. 

The oath (or affirmation) contains three simple commitments.  First and third are standard.  The former commits the affiant to support and defend the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines and obey the laws and legal orders promulgated by the duly constituted authorities in the Philippines; latter states that affiant is imposing the obligation upon himself or herself voluntarily and without mental reservation or purpose of evasion. 

The commitment between the first and the third is legal artistry (if that term is not an oxymoron).  Affiant declares that he or she recognizes and accepts the supreme authority of the Philippines and will maintain true faith and allegiance thereto. The stroke of genius of whoever crafted the form of the oath is, in my view, the use of the phrase “supreme authority”. 

Under our present Constitution, “dual allegiance of citizen is inimical to the national interest and shall be dealt with by law” (Sec. 5, Art. IV, 1987 Const.)  If I my guess is correct, the use of the “supreme authority” in the prescribed oath was a deliberate choice.  Most countries require an oath of allegiance from those who wish to be their naturalized citizens. 

But not many states (I know not of one) require that they be recognized as “supreme authority” simply because a state is, in all jurisdictions, understood to be sovereign, i.e. the supreme ruler or authority, within its own territory.

Thus, a natural-born Filipino who takes an oath of allegiance to another country, upon naturalization in a country which did not bother to be recognized in that oath as “the supreme authority”, will have no problem taking the required oath to retain or reacquire Philippine citizenship, because the two oaths of allegiance can stand together.  The oath of allegiance to the Philippines does not result in the “dual allegiance” proscribed by the Constitution because the dual citizen, pledges to only one supreme authority and that is the Republic of the Philippines. 

As far as the Philippines is concerned, to be acknowledged as the number one is enough.  Since the other country did not, in its oath, require to be considered as supreme, that country is, in the eyes of the Republic of the Philippines, only the number two, or, in current cell phone text lingo, number two.

The other country, on the other hand, is not bothered by its naturalized citizen taking the prescribed oath because the Philippines is clearly, under International Law, the “supreme authority” only within its own jurisdiction.  To that country, the naturalized citizen is swearing allegiance to the Philippines as “supreme authority” only within the Philippines and not within its territory.  Hence, it does not take away anything from the allegiance that its naturalized citizen has pledged to it.  Within that country’s territory, it is the “supreme authority” and that was understood, even if not said, in the oath taken by the naturalized citizen. 

The dual citizen thus is not guilty of mental reservation or of being purposely evasive.  He was simply exhibiting, thanks to our legislators and the approving president, abilidad.

Several benefits flow from the taking of the prescribed oath.  The dual citizen’s unmarried children, below eighteen (18) are deemed citizens of the Philippines.  In general, the dual citizen himself or herself begins to enjoy full civil and political rights and become subject to all attendant liabilities and responsibilities of Philippine citizenship.

However, if he or she wants to vote, and is residing abroad, the requirements of the Constitution and the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 must be complied with.  If election to a public office is sought, the dual citizen-candidate must make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship.  If appointed to a public office, renunciation of the oath allegiance to the other country is required.  And those who wish to practice their profession in the Philippines must make the necessary application for the relevant license or permit.

But the right to vote or be voted for or be appointed to a pubic office cannot be exercised by those who (a) are candidates for or occupying a public office or (b) are in the armed forces of the country of which the country where they are naturalized citizens.

The law, we are told, is expected to encourage Filipinos who have become naturalized citizens of other countries to come back home and pump in investments in land, in commerce and in industry, share the skills and technology they acquired elsewhere with their countrymen, and, as modern heroes, rescue the country from the mire it is presently in.