Published 17 January 2020, The Daily Tribune

Lately, we are seeing an unprecedented influx of Chinese nationals into the country. Based on news reports, most of them have come here in particular to join the thriving POGO (Philippine offshore gaming operator) industry. And yet, you get the feeling they are almost everywhere. Seeing them has become a common sight. From all indications they seem to be enjoying their stay. It makes me wonder. Do they too want to become Filipinos? After all, there are various rights and privileges that are exclusively granted only to Filipino citizens. For one, some professions, like law, are reserved only for Filipino citizens. Getting employed is easier for Filipinos as they are not subject to nationality restrictions imposed by the Anti-Dummy Law or for the non-nationalized activities, their employment is not subject to the condition required of foreigners, that is, there are no available Filipinos able and willing to do the job. But perhaps the most notable of all privileges granted to Filipino citizens is the ability to acquire and own private land in the Philippines.

Not a few actually have sent queries on acquiring citizenship. I have, in fact, penned a couple of articles on the subject. But given the increasing interest on Philippine citizenship, I am writing this three-part series for all foreigners who would like to be considered Pinoys. Incidentally, I was in Iceland a week ago for a short family vacation. I was fascinated by the anecdote of the travel guide about the American chess genius, Bobby Fischer. He settled and sought political asylum in Iceland. The United States government wanted him deported for playing chess against the brilliant Russian player Boris Spassky in a country which was subject then to an embargo by the US government. To prevent his deportation, the Parliament of Iceland made him an Icelander by law. With the anecdote still fresh in mind, let me start with legislative naturalization.

Legislative naturalization is granted through a direct act of the Congress of the Philippines. Pursuant to its legislative authority under Article VI, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, the Congress of the Philippines, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, has the authority to grant Filipino citizenship to certain foreign nationals for their notable service to the country and to the Filipino people.

In the case of legislative naturalization, the pathway to Filipino citizenship is commenced by the filing of a naturalization bill by any member of the House of the Representatives. Thereafter, the bill shall undergo the usual legislative process of how a bill becomes a law, including the requirement of conducting three readings on separate days as provided under Section 26 (2) Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.

On the first reading, the title and number of the bill is read into the records and thereafter referred to the proper committee for consideration.

The committee then evaluates the bill as to the necessity of conducting public hearings where resource persons, experts and other stakeholders on the proposed naturalization bill may be invited. If the committee finds that a public hearing is not necessary, it shall schedule the bill for committee discussions.

Based on the result of the public hearings or committee discussions, the committee may introduce amendments, consolidate bills on the same subject matter or propose a substitute bill. The committee will then prepare the corresponding committee report.

On the second reading, after the proponent or sponsor of the naturalization bill concludes his sponsorship speech, a debate on whether the grant of citizenship to the foreigner is favorable to the country or not will transpire. Amendments may also be made and voting thereon will take place.

On the third reading, only the number and title of the naturalization bill will be read. No further amendments on the bill shall be allowed at this stage. The members of Congress will then vote on the bill. The member if he so desires may explain his vote. The naturalization bill granting Filipino citizenship to a foreigner must be approved by an affirmative vote of the majority of the members present.

Thereafter, the approved naturalization bill will be transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence or proposed amendments. There, it will undergo the same legislative process described above.

Ordinarily, there are no contentious provisions on a naturalization bill. However, in case of conflict between the versions of the bill from the two Houses of Congress, the Bicameral Conference Committee composed of members from each House, shall be tasked to reconcile the conflicting provisions.

Thereafter, the enrolled bill — signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and duly certified by both the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House — will be transmitted to the President for his signature and approval. Once the bill is signed by the President, the bill becomes a law.

Depending on the priority given by Congress and the President to the naturalization bill, the passage thereof into law may be as quick as one month. Otherwise, it may not even be passed at all until the next Congress sits.

After the law granting Philippine citizenship to a certain individual is published, the same shall be effective. However, the grantee must still take the Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and wait for the issuance of a Certificate of Naturalization by the Bureau of Immigration. Thereafter, he shall be entitled to all the rights and privileges of a naturalized citizen under Philippine laws. (end of Part 1)

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