The Supreme Court of the Philippines, led by Chief Justice Alexander
G. Gesmundo, today led the media launch of the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons (A.M. No. 21-07-22-SC), which governs the procedure for the filing of petitions for naturalization by refugees and stateless persons recognized by the Philippine Government.
In his welcome remarks during the launch of the Rule at the Session Hall of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Gesmundo said that the Rule is the contribution of the Judiciary to the Philippines’ fulfillment of its international obligation.
“The only Judiciary-led initiative of its kind at the global level, this Rule was developed pursuant to the 2017 Inter-Agency Agreement on the Protection of Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Stateless Persons in the Philippines,” disclosed Chief Justice Gesmundo. He added that the Rule allows an expeditious and inexpensive process for the acquisition of Philippine citizenship by refugees and stateless persons. “This is consistent with the aim to streamline court processes “to ensure an efficient, fair, and speedy delivery of justice,” he said.
The Rule, which takes effect 15 days after its publication in two newspapers of general circulation, aims to simplify and reduce legal and procedural hurdles in obtaining Philippine citizenship to facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees and stateless persons into Philippine society.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Chairperson of the Special Committee on Facilitated Naturalization for Refugees and Stateless Individuals, gave a presentation as to the salient features of the Rule.
Justice Hernando explained that under Section 3 of the Rule, “the expedited procedure aims to simplify and reduce legal and procedural hurdles in obtaining Philippine citizenship to facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees and stateless persons into Philippine society.” He said that this is with due regard to the fact that these persons may not have the complete documentary requirements or financial means
to successfully go through the regular naturalization process under our existing laws, because of their vulnerable circumstances. “Often, they are the ones who are escaping from conflict and persecution in their home countries,” added Justice Hernando.
He stressed that under Section 9 of the Rule, the inability of a petitioner to produce certain documentary exhibits “shall not be a ground for the denial of the petition if the totality of evidence is sufficient to establish that he or she meets all of the qualifications and does not suffer any of the disqualifications as provided for in Commonwealth Act No. 473.”
“This is further reiterated in Section 20, which states that ‘in resolving the petition, the Court shall consider the totality of evidence presented to determine whether the petitioner has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications specified by law, with due consideration to the petitioner’s cooperation throughout the naturalization procedure.” Justice Hernando added that Section 27 of the Rule provides that the petitioner, unless exempted by law, shall only pay 50% of the prescribed docket and other legal fees.”
Justice Hernando also gave emphasis to the fact that this is the first time that the Supreme Court is allowing electronic publication, under Section 12 of the Rule which states that if the court is satisfied that the petition is sufficient in form and substance, it shall direct the clerk of court to cause the publication of the petition, excluding its annexes, for three consecutive weeks in the Official Gazette or its website and in one newspaper of general circulation or its website in the place where the petitioner resides, on in the official website of the Supreme Court. He revealed that these alternative modes of publications aim to reduce the necessary fees and make it less burdensome for the petitioners to apply for naturalization.
Justice Hernando said: “Indeed, more than a procedural tool, the Rule is a lifeline for refugees and stateless individuals. With the Rule in full force and effect, they will gain a new lease in life – no longer segregated, uncertain, and helpless, but fully integrated, settled, protected, and most of all, accorded respect as human beings.”
Chief State Counsel George O. Ortha II of the Department of Justice – Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary of Justice. He said that the approval of the Rule fulfills the Philippines’ pledge during the Global Refugees Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness.
“Specifically, the Rule concretized Action Point 4 of our National Action Plan to End Statelessness by 2024; that is, facilitating the naturalization of refugees and stateless persons. It likewise contributes to the implementation of the strategies outlined in the updated Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 to develop a legal framework for these persons of concern,” shared Chief State Counsel Ortha.
For his part, United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator Gustavo González noted that the Rule contributes to the collective vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “leave no one behind.”
Mr. González said that the UN in the Philippines remains committed to continuing its partnership with the Philippine Government in realizing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals through the UN Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework for COVID-19 Recovery. He also assured the Philippine Judiciary, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other stakeholders of his support in ensuring a favorable and protective environment for refugees and stateless persons.
Atty. Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo, Head of the National Office of UNHCR Philippines which was instrumental in drafting the Rule, said that the Rule addresses the challenges that refugees and stateless persons face when they apply for naturalization, such as the lengthy and costly process. “Between 2006 to 2018, only eight former refugees were naturalized. Such process spanned for years – even more than a decade. Now, with the Rule, they only have to wait for a decision in 90 days,” shared Atty. Valdeavilla-Gallardo.
She expressed her hope that the Rule will give refugees and stateless persons a chance to start again and live with dignity and security. “This goal could only be achieved if we continue to work together to bring about more positive change and echo the voices of these vulnerable groups through our policies and laws,” said Atty. Valdeavilla-Gallardo. “We owe it to every person, child, and family who seek a secure place where they can develop and call their home.”
The approval of the Rule is the Judiciary’s contribution to the fulfillment of the Philippines’ pledges during the Global Refugee Forum and High-Level Segment on Statelessness to enhance the policy, legal, and operational framework for refugees and stateless persons to ensure their full access to rights as guaranteed by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, including their facilitated naturalization and other rights as may be provided by national laws. It also puts into fruition the goal of the Judiciary to provide affordable and effective means of attaining justice through the introduction of judicial reforms to ensure an efficient, fair, and speedy delivery of justice for cases of [persons of concern]” pursuant to the 2017 Inter-Agency Agreement on the Protection of Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Stateless Persons in the Philippines, among other frameworks.