The Philippines in the Apostille Convention

Say goodbye to the red ribbons. The Philippines on September 12 deposited the instruments of Philippine accession to the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents.

Better known as the Hague Apostille Convention (or simply the Apostille Convention; i.e., a certification, from the Latin post illa and the French for a marginal note), the Convention should entitle the Philippines to simplify procedures in the use of public documents abroad or from abroad here in the Philippines.

Hence, starting from 14 May 2019 (the date of effectivity of the Apostille Convention for the Philippines), the “only formality that may be required in order to certify the authenticity of the signature, the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted and, where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp which it bears, is the addition of the certificate [i.e., placed on the document itself or on an “allonge”], issued by the competent authority of the State from which the document emanates. However, the formality mentioned cannot be required when either the laws, regulations, or practice in force in the State where the document is produced or an agreement between two or more Contracting States have abolished or simplified it, or exempt the document itself from legalization.”

For purposes of the Apostille Convention, the term “public documents” refer to:

documents emanating from an authority or an official connected with the courts or tribunals of the State, including those emanating from a public prosecutor, a clerk of a court or a process-server (“huissier de justice”);

administrative documents; notarial acts; official certificates placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document or its existence on a certain date and official and notarial authentications of signatures.

However, the Apostille Convention shall not apply:

to documents executed by diplomatic or consular agents;

to administrative documents dealing directly with commercial or customs operations.

Essentially, as its name implies, the Apostille is a certificate giving a “public document” as defined above legal effect in other countries (by which is meant those countries that are members of the Apostille Convention). The Apostille is attached to that public document by the designated government agency (for the Philippines it is the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Consular Affairs) and essentially indicates the signature of the relevant official (perhaps a notary public) and declaring that such is valid signature.

Previously, as described by Wiki, “the document must be certified by the foreign ministry of the country in which the document originated, and then by the foreign ministry of the government of the state in which the document will be used; one of the certifications will often be performed at an embassy or consulate. In practice this means the document must be certified twice before it can have legal effect in the receiving country.”

So, for example, in relation to the United States, any US public document that is to be used in the Philippines will have to receive Certificate from the Secretary of State, plus other additional steps before the documents can be presented to the Philippine Embassy or Consulate office.

That previous procedure required almost half to a dozen steps, which the Apostille Convention cuts to one or two. The present system does away with the traditional red ribbon attached to documents for presentation in other countries. Effectively, it works like notarizing the notarization.

Despite the term “public,” private documents like contracts or wills are included within the ambit of the Apostille Convention by virtue of notarization and is thus able to have legal effect in member countries to the Apostille Convention.

Note that the Apostille only certifies the signature, the capacity of the signer, and the seal or stamp it bears. It does not certify the content for which the document was issued.

The aforementioned Office of Consular Affairs will need to “keep a register or card index in which it shall record the certificates issued, specifying:

the number and date of the certificate, the name of the person signing the public document and the capacity in which he has acted, or in the case of unsigned documents, the name of the authority which affixed the seal or stamp.

At the request of any interested person, the authority which has issued the certificate shall verify whether the particulars in the certificate correspond with those in the register or card index.”

The Supreme Court, however, may need to make certain adjustments to the Rules of Court regarding the use of foreign public documents.

In any event, the Philippines will certainly benefit from the Apostille Convention. Kudos to the DFA’s Hague Ambassador Jaime Victor Ledda, Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs Eduardo Malaya III, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Neil Frank Ferrer for shepherding the accession process through.

Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

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