Justice for Those Who Were Found

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Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s Sponsorship Speech for The Foundling Recognition and Protection Act

Good afternoon, dear colleagues. I speak to you today, as I always have in this chamber, in behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.

When one of our colleagues, Sen. Grace Poe, ran for President on 2016, she shined a light on a class of citizens which would otherwise be invisible in the eyes of the law: the foundlings. This bill defines a foundling as “a deserted or abandoned child or infant with unknown facts of birth and parentage.”

For too long, we have ignored fulfilling our mandate in enacting legislation to address the needs of the foundlings in our country. As early as the 1934 Constitutional Convention, a discussion on the status of foundlings were made by the delegates. Delegate and Constitution Law author Jose Aruego said that “the Convention believed that the cases, being too few to warrant the inclusion of a provision in the Constitution to apply to them, should be governed by statutory legislation.”

Eighty-seven years have passed since.

Today, we submit this piece of legislation that would establish under our laws, the status of these foundlings, and recognize their rights as natural-born citizens of this country.

In the landmark case of Poe-Llamanzares v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 221697, 8 March 2016), the Supreme Court declared that “[f]oundlings are likewise citizens under international law. Under the 1987 Constitution, an international law can become part of the sphere of domestic law either by transformation or incorporation. The transformation method requires that an international law be transformed into a domestic law through a constitutional mechanism such as local legislation.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Art. 15 provides that 1) everyone has a right to a nationality; and 2) no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

The same principles were echoed in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on 2012.

Aside from the UDHR, the Supreme Court also cited the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Both instruments require State-Parties to register every child immediately after birth and recognizes the right of children to a name and to acquire nationality.

According to the Supreme Court, “[t]he common thread of the UDHR, UNCRC and ICCPR is to obligate the Philippines to grant nationality from birth and ensure that no child is stateless. This grant of nationality must be at the time of birth, and it cannot be accomplished by the application of our present naturalization laws, Commonwealth Act No. 473, as amended, and R.A. No. 9139, both of which require the applicant to be at least eighteen (18) years old.”

The Supreme Court likewise adopted, for our guidance, as generally accepted principles of international law, Article 14 of the 1930 Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws and Article 2 of the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. While the Philippines is not a State Party to the said conventions, the Supreme Court ruled current legislation reveals our adherence to these principles.

Under the Hague Convention, “[a] child whose parents are both unknown shall have the nationality of the country of birth. If the child’s parentage is established, its nationality shall be determined by the rules applicable in cases where the parentage is known. A foundling is, until the contrary is proved, presumed to have been born on the territory of the State in which it was found.”

The 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, on the other hand provides, that “[a] foundling found in the territory of a Contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born within the territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State.”

According to the Supreme Court, “[a]dopting these legal principles from the 1930 Hague Convention and the 1961 Convention on Statelessness is rational and reasonable and consistent with the jus sanguinis regime in our Constitution. The presumption of natural-born citizenship of foundlings stems from the presumption that their parents are nationals of the Philippines. As the empirical data provided by the PSA show, that presumption is at more than 99% and is a virtual certainty.”

It is, therefore, not only equitable, but also constitutional that we provide a legal regime, through legislation, on the status of the foundlings in our country and recognize their full rights as natural-born Filipinos.

It is a recognized principle in international law that each State has the right to determine who its citizens are, and, by its laws, establish standards that would confer nationality to its people. Through this bill, we address, once and for all, the dilemma of these children who suffered the misfortune for which they are not responsible.

In this bill, we likewise mandate the appropriate agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Philippine Statistics Agency, and the Local Government Units, to extend all forms of assistance necessary to identify, register, nurture and protect the foundlings to enable them to fully realize themselves as a productive part of our country.

I respectfully urge my colleagues in this august chamber to do another act of justice and kindness by enacting this piece of legislation.

Thank you very much.

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