5 million Filipinos have no birth records – PSA

Bonz Magsambol
5 million Filipinos have no birth records – PSA
The most common barrier for parents is the cost of registering their child. This is the story of Jolimil Reyes, 18.

MANILA, Philippines – A single piece of paper – or the lack of it – made Jolimil Reyes’ life difficult for 18 years. He was ridiculed by his classmates. He felt invisible and excluded from their school’s system.

He didn’t have a birth certificate. 

Jolimil is the only child of street vendors Shirley Tindoc, 64, and Valentin Reyes, 74. Both of them were married to other people then. When Jolimil was born, his parents could not afford to get his birth registered. They also couldn’t decide whose last name their child would carry since they weren’t married.

They didn’t know that the lack of birth records would affect Jolimil’s dream of a better life. 

When Jolimil first enrolled in school, his teacher asked him for his birth certificate. He couldn’t present any. They tried to register him in their hometown in Muñoz City, Nueva Ecija, but registry officials turned them away, saying Jolimil’s birth should be recorded in Cabanatuan City – about an hour travel from their home – because that was where he was born. 

When Jolimil’s parents tried to register his birth in Cabanatuan, the local civil registrar told them they were required to get married first to proceed with their application. To complete the process, Jolimil’s parents were told to prepare at least P30,000 – an amount they couldn’t raise because of their measly income.

Instead, his parents only requested for an “Affidavit of Surname to Use” so Jolimil could enrol. Throughout his schooling years, this was the only document he presented to his teachers.

Jolimil is not alone. Based on the records of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 5 million Filipinos nationwide remained unregistered in 2019 – 40% were children aged 0-14 years old. 

According to PSA, a birth certificate is a vital record that establishes the birth of a child. It is used to “authenticate one’s identity and nationality, and assist with obtaining government-issued identity documents.” The lack of this document leads to social stigma and difficulty in accessing basic government services, like education and healthcare. 

The cost associated with certificate application is still the most common barrier for poor parents. The distance parents have to travel to reach offices where to file the application is another problem. 

To make sure that every Filipino is registered, the PSA has urged local government units (LGUs) to implement mobile registration, especially in far-flung areas.

According to the PSA website, online application and delivery of birth certificates within the country costs P330 per copy.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has filed a bill, seeking to give “lifetime validity” to birth certificates. 

Recto said he wanted to end the practice of government and private offices which require applicants for documents, permits, services, or jobs to submit only recently-issued birth certificates.

Struggles met

The struggles Jolimil met along the way did not dampen his resolve to finish his studies. He was politely asking for his teachers’ consideration to admit him in their class. 

“Nakikiusap na lang muna ako kasi gusto ko talaga makapag-aral para mabigyan ko ng magandang buhay ang mga magulang ko. Gusto ko na rin kasi na huminto sila sa pagtitinda kasi matanda na rin sila,” Jolimil said. 

(I just ask for their consideration because I really want to finish my studies so I could provide my parents a better life. I want them to stop working already because they’re old.)

To help his parents finance his studies, Jolimil assists them in selling fish balls in Talugtug, an hour ride away from their home in Barangay Pandalla.

He is a freshman student at the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz City, working towards a degree in education. But he could no longer run away from his problem as he needs to present an authenticated birth certificate before he can get his diploma.

To complement Jolimil’s grit and enthusiasm, Roibinson Valenzona, his mathematics teacher in senior high school, decided to help him get a birth certificate. Valenzona had also asked for help from his colleagues so he could raise the funds Jolimil needed to get a birth certificate. 

“Nakikita ko kasi ‘yung potential sa kanya. Matalinong bata si Jolimil at magaling na lider,” Valenzona said. (I see the potential in him. Jolimil is a smart student and a good leader.)

Jolimil was the president of their class and finished senior high school with flying colors. 

According to Valenzona, the lack of a birth certificate denied Jolimil of good opportunities. The student couldn’t join extracurricular activities where copies of his birth certificate were required. Worse, he could not apply for scholarships. 

“Maganda rin po ang mga feedback sa kanya ng mga teachers niya. Ang pinaka-struggle po talaga niya ay wala siyang scholarship. Dahil nga sa wala siyang birth certificate, nahihirapan siyang mag-apply dito,” said Valenzona.

(Jolimil received good feedback from his teachers. His main struggle is that he doesn’t have any scholarship grant. Due to lack of birth certificate, he could not apply for any.) 

Jolimil was also supposed to take an exam at the Philippine National Police Academy to fulfill his dream of becoming a policeman, but he wasn’t able to complete the requirements due to the lack of birth certificate. 

‘Nabunutan ng tinik’

Jolimil’s application for a birth certificate is ongoing. He was initially given one under his mother’s surname, Tindoc. But they were requesting this to be changed to “Reyes,” as he has been using this since he started schooling. They are now awaiting the court’s decision regarding their appeal.

The process to get him registered may not be over yet, but Jolimil takes consolation that his highly-elusive birth certificate is just steps away. 

“Para akong nabunutan ng tinik. Ang sarap isipin na kapag hiningian ako ng teacher ko ng birth certificate ay maibibigay ko na. Magiging normal na estudyante na ako,” said Jolimil.  (I felt relieved. It’s nice to think that if my teacher asks for my birth certificate, I will already be able to provide it.) – Rappler.com


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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.