Recognizing the Philippines’ commitments under international law, particularly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Supreme Court, during its En Banc deliberation on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, approved A.M. No. 21- 07-22, or the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons.
The Rule, which takes effect fifteen (15) days after its publication in two (2) 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. It governs the procedure for the filing of petitions for naturalization by refugees and stateless persons recognized by the Philippine Government.
Significantly, the Rule, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s rule-making power under Section 5(5), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, allows for electronic publication. Section 12 of the Rule states: “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 (3) consecutive weeks in the Official Gazette or its website and in one (1) newspaper of general circulation or its website in the place where the petitioner resides, OR the official website of the Supreme Court.” This is with due regard to the special and vulnerable circumstances of refugees and stateless persons, such that the alternative modes of publication would reduce the necessary fees and be less burdensome for them. Additionally, the provision on electronic publication is a step towards the goal of the Supreme Court to have a technology- driven Judiciary that is capable of providing equal access to justice in real time.
Another salient feature of the Rule is that it allows an unaccompanied child to file a petition for naturalization. Under this Rule, “A petition, in behalf of the unaccompanied child or a joint petition involving related unaccompanied children, may be filed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the appropriate Local Social Welfare and Development Office (LSWDO) where the unaccompanied child resides, or the child-caring agency having care and custody of the child.” This is in accordance with the Philippines’ obligation under international instruments to ensure the right of a child to acquire a nationality, with the courts guided by the “best interests of the child” principle.
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” by “introduc[ing] judicial reforms or streamlin[ing] court rules 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.
The updated Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 complements the 2017 Agreement as it includes, as a strategy, access to justice by the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized groups towards the pursuit of “swift, fair, and humane administration of justice.” The updated PDP and 2017 Agreement, along with other issuances, advance the common goal of the UN General Assembly to leave no one behind through Sustainable Development Goal 16 on “promot[ing] peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provid[ing] access to justice for all and build[ing] effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, and its respective Target 16.9 on “provid[ing] legal identity for all…” which includes citizenship.
With the Philippines being the first country in Southeast Asia to accede to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, the Rule is the only Judiciary-led initiative of its kind at the global level that facilitates the naturalization procedure for refugees and stateless persons. The SC Public Information Office will immediately upload a copy of the Rule in the SC website upon official receipt of the same from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.