War, violence, and insecurity in many areas of the world have forced multitudes of people to flee from their homes. The ongoing war against Ukraine, for instance, has resulted in a large-scale displacement of over 6 million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In response to this rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis, the Philippine government has expressed its readiness to welcome those who seek to flee the risk of persecution, human rights violations, and other types of armed conflict in war-torn areas.
On 15 February 2022, the Supreme Court, by virtue of its rule-making power under the 1987 Constitution, promulgated A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC, or the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The Rule provides for the expedited procedure in filing petitions for naturalization by duly-recognized refugees and stateless persons in the Philippines. The Rule, which the Court prides to be the first and only “judiciary-led initiative of its kind at the global level,” aims to facilitate the assimilation of refugees and stateless persons into Philippine society, in accordance with the Philippines’ obligations under several international legal instruments.
Under the 1951 Convention Relating to Status of Refugees, a refugee is a “person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” On the other hand, a stateless person refers to “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.”
To be recognized as a refugee or a stateless person, an application for determination of refugee or statelessness status must first be filed with the Department of Justice through its Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit. Once the application is favorably resolved by the Secretary of Justice, the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization allows the refugee or stateless person to file a verified petition for naturalization at the Regional Trial Court where he or she has resided for at least 1 year immediately preceding the filing of the petition. A joint petition may likewise be filed by immediate family members who are related either by consanguinity or affinity.
Significantly, the Rule allows the filing of the petition on behalf of an unaccompanied child, as well as a joint petition involving related unaccompanied children, by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the appropriate Local Social Welfare and Development Office where the unaccompanied child resides, or the child-caring agency having his or her custody (Sec. 6, A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC). An unaccompanied child is a child who is “separated from both parents and other relatives and is not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, has responsibility to do so” (Sec. 5(d), A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC). With this, the right of unaccompanied children to acquire nationality is assured, with the courts being guided by the best interests of the child principle.
With respect to the qualifications, disqualifications, and documentary requirements for the Petition for Naturalization, the Rule references to Commonwealth Act No. 473, the relevant law on naturalization, and adopts most of its provisions.
Notably, the totality of evidence rule eases the applicant’s burden of producing his or her supporting documents. In Section 9 of the Rule, the inability to submit the documents shall not be a ground for the denial of the petition as long as the totality of the evidence is sufficient to establish that the petitioner meets all of the qualifications and does not suffer any of the disqualifications under C.A. No. 473. It is important to note, however, that the Declaration of Intention, if applicable, and the proof of recognition of refugee or stateless status remain indispensable.
Another salient feature of the Rule which is expected to ease the financial burden of the petitioner-refugee or stateless person is the relaxation of the relevant publication requirements. In addition to the traditional mode of publication of the petition in a newspaper of general circulation, at the petitioner’s expense, the Rule now allows the electronic publication of the petition in the official website of the Supreme Court, hence reducing the costs of the petitioner (Sec. 12, A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC). The petitioner is also required to pay only fifty percent (50%) of the docket and other legal fees, unless exempted by law (Sec. 27, A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC).
While we have yet to see a petition filed under the newly-promulgated Rule on Facilitated Naturalization, the same is expected to pave the way for refugees and stateless persons to be fully integrated into Philippine society by according them with Philippine citizenship. As political and civil unrest in many parts of the world continues to uproot millions of people from their homeland, consequently depriving them of basic human rights, the Rule is indeed a good and timely measure to ensure the protection of refugees and stateless persons, consistent with the Philippines’ obligations under international law.
This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice or legal opinion.
Kristine Bernadette F. Soriano is an Associate of the Immigration Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).