My Philippine Citizenship Odyssey

Background

I have a fairly unusual personal background. My parents immigrated to the US from two very different countries: Finland and the Philippines. When I grew up, dual citizenship was kind of a murky thing, which seemed to be frowned upon and discouraged. But after the turn of the millennium, there was a sea change in the way multiple citizenship was viewed by governments. Many countries actively tried to encourage dual citizenship, or the retention of one’s citizenship even after emigrating to another country.

As a result of this change, I acquired my Finnish citizenship in 2008, thanks to the Finnish nationality law, which had opened a timed window in which former Finnish citizens (such as my mother) could reacquire their citizenship, and their direct descendants could acquire Finnish citizenship for the first time. This was a very appealing prospect to me, because of Finland’s membership in the European Union, and its various agreements with its Nordic neighbors. I wound up waiting until almost the last possible moment to file my application, because for some time, there was a lack of clarity around Finland’s mandatory military service obligation, and what it might mean for new citizens. (Eventually, a clarification was issued that, for people residing outside the country, or who were 30 or over, the military service was not required.) This procrastination, and the last-minute crush of applications, meant that it took almost a year for my application to be processed and approved.

Republic Act 9225

After submitting that application, I did a little bit of research to figure out if I could do something similar with the Philippines. My father had, in theory, given up his Filipino citizenship upon his naturalization as a US citizen. I discovered, though, that Republic Act 9225 had been passed back in 2003, with the stated policy that “all Philippine citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship under the conditions of this Act.” There was also a provision in the law for acquisition of citizenship by children of eligible former Filipinos, but there was a catch – it’s specifically limited to children below 18 years of age, which excluded me. My father went ahead and reacquired his citizenship under RA 9225, but that didn’t change the status of me or my siblings.

At first glance, it seemed like I might not be able to acquire Filipino citizenship, or at least not in the same way in which I had acquired Finnish citizenship (i.e. by a declaration related to my mother reacquiring her citizenship). After doing a little more reading, though, I realized that the Philippine nationality law follows the principle of jus sanguinis, and perhaps I would be eligible for citizenship at birth, even if I wasn’t allowed to acquire my citizenship through my dad’s RA 9225 reacquisition process. But after thinking a little bit more about this, I realized that I still might be stuck in a legal quandary.

Why? It turns out that my father had naturalized as a US citizen several months before my birth. And if he was no longer a Filipino citizen at that time, would I be ineligible for Filipino citizenship by birth?

I returned to the text of RA 9225, and pored over it. Despite the stated policy in the document that former Philippine citizens “shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship,” the rest of the document was littered with the word “re-acquire,” which made me think that, legally, citizenship was something that was dropped, and then picked up again later. Maybe the “stated policy” was actually at odds with the rest of the document – the actual legalese. This would be bad news for me, with regards to my dad being considered a Philippine citizen at the time of my birth. This left me confused and unclear as to the legal status of my birth, and trying to pencil out various possible scenarios:

  • What if Dad lost his Philippine citizenship upon US naturalization, and only reacquired it when he reclaimed his citizenship? In this case, I would be out of luck, without any real way to become a Filipino citizen apart from the normal naturalization process.
  • What if Dad lost his Philippine citizenship upon US naturalization, but after reacquiring it, was considered to always have remained a citizen of the Philippines? With this reading, I think I would be eligible for citizenship by birth.
  • What if Dad was considered to always have remained a citizen of the Philippines, but the question of my birth status was irrevocably resolved at the moment of my birth? This is what I worried about the most – I would be forever ineligible, by virtue of falling into some weird edge case of the relevant laws.

In my confusion, I sent a couple of desultory e-mails to one of the Philippine consulates here in the US, and to the owners of some pages offering advice on Philippine immigration issues. The responses that I got were confused, and were of the opinion that I might be out of luck, but it wasn’t clear how deeply these responses were considered, or whether any higher levels of the bureaucracy were consulted. My follow-up requests for clarification often went unanswered.

As a result of this discouraging start, I set the project aside for many years, unsure how to proceed. I thought about trying to find and hire legal consultation familiar with these issues (either here in the United States, in the Filipino community, or in the Philippines itself), but never really pursued it seriously.

Fast forward to 2019, when my interest in this project was reignited by a family trip to Asia, including a big chunk of time spent in the Philippines. My kids loved going to the Philippines, and so I thought about getting my Philippine citizenship once again, now with the children in mind. If I could claim my citizenship from birth, my kids could also claim this birthright from the country which had captured their hearts. So I decided to just try applying, and to see what happened. During this process, as it turns out, I did more online research, and found legal precedent strongly supporting the idea that I was indeed eligible for birthright citizenship.

The Process

I would need to report my birth, as the birth of a Filipino abroad, to the Philippine consulate in New York (the consulate responsible for the region of my birth). But before I could do that, I would first need to establish that my parents were actually married, in the eyes of the Philippines. (I guess I could have just tried to report my birth as an illegitimate child, to cut down on paperwork, but that seemed…undesirable.)

This turned out to be another adventure, as my parents had actually gotten married in Canada, and not the United States! So I had to help them file a Report of Marriage, with the Philippine Consulate in Toronto. This necessitated ordering official copies of their marriage certificate from Ontario, getting some passport pictures of my parents, and then getting their signatures notarized on various forms. Because the marriage had taken place so long ago, and because the Philippines is basically the only country where divorce is still not recognized, this also required ordering a “Certificate of No Marriage Record” (CENOMAR) from the Philippine Statistics Authority, to certify that they had no previous record of either of my parents being married.

After getting this taken care of, and receiving the stamped, approved copy of their Report of Marriage application in the mail, I asked if I could simply include that with my report of birth application, instead of having to wait to be able to order an official copy from the PSA. (The approved forms are only transmitted back to the Philippines once every few months, so you might need to wait several months before you can even order an official copy from the PSA.) Thankfully, the consulate told me that I could just include the approved report of marriage that I got in the mail, and so that was what I did. I carefully made all the required photocopies of documents (a somewhat puzzling requirement, since we live in the Information Age with easily-scannable documents), got my signatures notarized on several different forms, put together the package according to the instructions on the consulate site, and sent it off.

The Legalities

I mentioned earlier that I had found some relevant precedents in the Philippine legal system, which seemed to settle that burning question I had with regards to my eligibility for birthright citizenship. The first petition (and ruling) concerned a lawyer who moved to Canada, became a Canadian citizen, reacquired his Philippine citizenship under RA 9225, and then moved back to the Philippines in 2006, intending to resume his law practice. In the Philippines, the practice of law is restricted to citizens, which raised the question as to whether the petitioner was still even a member of the bar association at all, after becoming a Canadian citizen. It was ruled that, due to the wording of the intent of RA 9225 that “Philippine citizens of another country shall be deemed not to have lost their Philippine citizenship,” the petitioner never lost their bar membership, and merely needed to get current on his payment of dues to the bar association, participate in some continuing education, and retake their lawyer’s oath. Because there are no other requirements other than citizenship of one parent at the time of birth, for a child to be a Philippine citizen, my case now seems very clear-cut. Regardless of what my dad may have thought at the time, he was a Philippine citizen at the time of my birth, and therefore, I am one as well, and have been from the moment of my birth (even though it took me a few decades to get around to notifying the Philippines about this).

The second petition regarded a similar situation, except that the petitioner had become a US citizen in 1981. The positive ruling on this petition just reinforced my feeling that I was indeed able to claim my citizenship at birth, as there seemed to be no further conditions or considerations about the length of time elapsed.

The Result

In a short while, I received the approved documents back from the consulate in New York. I was indeed now officially a Filipino by birth! After a couple of months, I was then able to order an official copy of my Report of Birth from the PSA. I’ve continued working towards the goal of getting my kids their Philippine citizenship, reassured now that it’s just a matter of working through the remaining bureaucracy, and no longer a question of whether I’m eligible at all to be a citizen.

The key point to take away from my experience is that as long as your Filipino parent has reacquired their citizenship through RA 9225, it doesn’t matter whether they were naturalized as a citizen of another country when you were born. So if you were in the same situation as me, fear not! You can get it sorted out, and claim your Philippine citizenship by birth.

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