Few things motivate me more than anger. While obtaining my dual citizenship in the Philippines has been on my to-do list for the past few years, it was the result of the most recent Philippine midterm elections that really put this project of mine into motion.
Two weeks ago, the Philippines held their midterm elections and even before they were over, the outlook wasn’t good. There were widespread reports of cheating, suspected rigging of vote counting machines in polling centers, mass disenfranchisement of overseas voters, intimidation and harassment of people who were voting for progressive candidates, black propaganda and fake news. This was not an honest or clean election in any way. Afterwards, people in the Philippines and the U.S. took to the streets and social media to protest. Everyone’s fears had turned into reality.
The Philippine Senate is now under complete control of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is seeking to rewrite the constitution so that he can achieve what he really wants — a dictatorship. He already has his allies in the Supreme Court and Congress and now he has the Senate too. The liberal opposition suffered its greatest electoral defeat in recent history. In fact, this is worse than when Ferdinand Marcos was in power because even Marcos was unable to completely defeat the opposition.
There was some good news though. As of this writing, only 50% of the overseas absentee votes from the U.S. were counted but it was enough to push Kabataan Partylist and Bayan Muna Partylist (two progressive partylists in opposition to the current administration) to the winning margin, though not quite enough to win any Senate seats. It shows how much collective influence we Filipinos have, even if we’re outside of the Philippines. Our votes do matter and could swing an election.
My anger quickly turned to hope.
Since The Philippine Dual Citizenship Law, otherwise known as the Citizenship Retention Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9225), was passed by Congress principally as a means to open up the Philippine economy to former Filipinos who are willing to contribute to its growth and development. Once this law was passed, the number of registered overseas voters in the U.S. skyrocketed.
“There are some anecdotes that some [Filipino Americans who are US citizens] would come to the consulate to apply for dual citizenship because they want to vote,’ says deputy consul general Jaime Ramon Ascalon. ‘We have a lot of those. And we only observed that this  registration cycle.” (Maynette Federis, PRI)
Before writing this blog post, my dad and I spent the day looking through his files in order to get all the required documents so that I could proceed. Thanks to his meticulous record-keeping, all of his and my mom’s birth, marriage, immigration and citizenship documents were in one place and intact. Side note: I learned from an affidavit that my mom’s birth name was different from her current one because she was sickly as a child so my grandparents changed her name to hide her from the demons who were making her ill (this was in an actual, notarized, legal document!). I also learned that my dad was baptized by a Canadian priest in Cotabato, a province of Mindanao in the Philippines, and his parents had to get an affidavit to replace his baptism certificate because when he applied for a marriage license decades later, the priest was nowhere to be found and the church where he was baptized was completely destroyed in World War II (the affidavit said the church was destroyed “in the last globacide.”).
It also helps that I found an organization dedicated to helping Filipino-Americans like me get their dual citizenship by claiming our birthright — if at least one of your parents was still a Philippine citizen at the time of your birth, then you can claim jus sanguinis. What this means is that the Philippine government considers you a natural-born Filipino whose parents just failed to report your birth to the authorities.
Since neither of my parents was naturalized at the time of my birth (my mom wasn’t even naturalized until 1994), this makes me eligible. When a friend of mine posted a question about the application process on Facebook, I turned on my notifications so I could follow the replies. One of them came from a woman in NYC who founded the Filipino American Dual Citizenship Initiative (FADCI).
What are the benefits of dual citizenship in the Philippines?
Dual citizenship allows you to vote and be elected or run for public office. Filipino American voters in the U.S. are not at risk of voter suppression and extrajudicial killing as Filipinos are in the Philippines.
You’ll have the ability to stay in the Philippines for as long as you want without a visa or fees. Without a dual citizenship, you can only stay in the country for 1 month before having to apply for a visa & applicable fees.
You can extend all benefits and rights of Philippine citizenship onto your children. For this, your kids need to be under the age of 18 and unmarried. If you miss out on this chance, that window is closed for your kids.
You’ll have the ability to own property. Aside from the opportunity to own your own vacation home (#goals!!!), you may also use it for the future when it is time to retire (more #goals!!!).
The ability to work, do research and/or own a business in the Philippines. This is more for my kids, to be honest. It means if they chose to, they can study in the Philippines without having to pay international student taxes.
You can travel to any ASEAN countries without a visa. These countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Your Philippine passport will actually be better than your U.S. passport when traveling around in Southeast Asia.
The sooner you do it, the better. One of the documents required is an affidavit explaining why your birth wasn’t reported to the Philippine authorities. The older you get, the more it is at the discretion of the government. There are a few rare instances of Filipino Americans getting denied even though their parents are natural-born Filipinos. Fingers crossed that I get approved!
For me, it’s about more than voting rights. It’s about my personal ties to the Philippines and how much I want to strengthen them. Most of my paternal and maternal family is still there. And I want my kids to be Filipino both in ethnicity AND nationality.
I’ll write a follow-up post once I’ve completed the process.