overseas Filipinos

[OPINION] It’s cool to be dual

Jath Shao

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[OPINION] It’s cool to be dual

Illustration by Guia Abogado

'What makes someone Filipino? Is it the blood? The citizenship? Speaking the language? Knowing the culture or loving the food?'

Picture this – it’s September 11, 2021, and someone is about to become the tenth teenager to ever win the US Open. The only Grand Slam tournament to have been played every year since its inception, the US Open is played at the largest tennis venue in the world. Eight of the previous nine teenagers to have their names etched into the roll of champions on the Tiffany & Co. silver trophy have been women, with Pete Sampras the lone exception. The last time two teenagers met in the finals was in 1999, when Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam title, over Martina Hingis (6-3, 7-6).

Emma Raducanu, the daughter of a Romanian father and Chinese mother, started the match by serving to Leylah Fernandez. Incidentally, both players were born in Canada, although Emma plays as a Brit, having moved there with her family when she was two years old. Leylah’s father Jorge was born in Ecuador and moved to Canada as a child, while her mother Irene traces her roots to Ilocos Norte but was born and raised in Canada. 

Coming into the finals, Emma hadn’t dropped a set all tournament. Leylah, on the other hand, was on a streak of knocking off higher-ranked opponents that started in the third round when she beat former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka  5-7, 6-7 (2). I won’t spoil the ending of the story for you, but either way, one of them became the tenth teenage US Open champion, and a media sensation in both the West and Asia, especially after doing a commercial in her mother’s mother tongue.

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Pilipino ka ba?

What makes someone Filipino? Is it the blood? The citizenship? Speaking the language? Knowing the culture or loving the food? With millions of Filipinos spread across almost every country in the world, and millions more trying to find a ticket out, there will inevitably be some who immigrate. Then after they immigrate, they propagate, creating next generations who hopefully still hyphenate Fil- in their cultural self-identities.

As a lawyer, my first instinct is always to look at the law. The Constitution says that if your father or mother is a citizen of the Philippines, then so are you. It goes on to distinguish natural-born citizens as people who were citizens from birth, without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect it. 

Similarly, there are people who are dual citizens from birth, having at least one Filipino parent and at least another citizenship from blood or place of birth. In the past, kids in that situation had to choose one or the other upon the age of majority, although that has since been relaxed. 

R&R: Relinquish and reacquire

The other common way people become dual citizens is by reacquiring their Filipino citizenship. When you swear an oath to naturalize to another citizenship, the Phliippines considers that a voluntary relinquishment of your rights and privileges as a Filipino citizen. In recent years though, it’s become easier to reacquire citizenship by taking the oath of Philippine citizenship, usually by appointment at the consulate with jurisdiction over your residence. Your children can also derive Filipino citizenship through your reacquisition if they didn’t already have it from birth.

Interestingly, Filipino citizens by reacquisition or even naturalization have most of the same rights as natural-born citizens. Aside from the right to vote, there’s the right to own property, the right to engage in commerce, and the right to practice your profession provided you get a license from the PRC. There’s also the right to run for political office, although you have to relinquish any other citizenships before you serve your term.

Since the current dual citizenship law was passed in 2003, about 10,000 people per year have reacquired their Filipino citizenship, the vast majority of them being Fil-Ams. Chasing the overseas Filipino vote probably is not going to be the lynchpin of a winning electoral strategy, though. The entire overseas Filipino vote was less than 1% of the electorate in 2016, and without an Electoral College, the popular vote wins. Although Philippine consulates have been swamped with oath ceremonies for dual citizens, anecdotally, most have been motivated not by the coming elections, but by the ability to freely enter the Philippines during the pandemic era.

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A Filipino’s guide to dual citizenship

A Filipino’s guide to dual citizenship
Not in the same league, don’t shoot at the same baskets

Last time, we talked about how Asia’s oldest professional basketball league discriminates against dual citizens by treating Filipinos who were born outside the Philippines differently than locally-born players. Unsurprisingly, the commissioner ignored my suggestions and kept the requirements the same. Even if you have a valid passport and are Filipino under the Constitution, the PBA will still require a rubberstamped, typewritten piece of paper. It’s not just them though; the PRC imposes the same requirement on internationally born Filipinos if you try to get a professional license.

FIBA is the world’s governing body for basketball. FIBA rules for nationality are looser and stricter than the PBA’s. FIBA doesn’t differentiate between jus soli or jus sanguinis citizenship – they require that players secure their passports before the age of 16. If you’re older than 16 when you get your first passport, then FIBA considers you a naturalized player even if you claim citizenship by blood. Unless the national team program is scouting children around the world, this puts the onus on parents to help their kids claim Filipino citizenship.

That’s one of the reasons we probably won’t see Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green suiting up together for the national team unless the rules change a lot. The other reason is that Jalen’s played for the US before in international competitions, and would need to petition to change federations if he wanted to play for the Philippines instead. 

Even if the US agrees to let him change nationalities, FIBA would have to approve. In the recent 2020 Olympics, the Nigerian women’s basketball team could have had the three Owgumike sisters, all of whom are dual Nigerian-American citizens. However, despite the US’s release, FIBA denied Nneka Ogwumike‘s (one of the WNBA’s top 25 players of all time, fresh off her appearance in Space Jam) request to change her nationality to play for Nigeria because it deemed her to have had “substantial involvement” with Team USA.

Some sports are stricter or looser than other’s. Chess doesn’t even require citizenship. You only have to be a resident of the country you want to play for. That’s how Wesley So can play for the US now. The ITF instituted a new national eligibility rule in 2015 that allows players to represent only one country at Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and the Olympics during their careers. Previously, tennis players had been able to switch nationalities if they had citizenship and had not played for the other country in two years.

Leylah Fernandez will probably never play for the Philippines, but it doesn’t mean we can’t all cheer for her and other athletes, artists, comedians, nurses, and journalists around the world who make a difference in the world and make the Philippines proud. – Rappler.com

Jath Shao is an immigration lawyer who helps people achieve the American dream. An immigrant from Manila, Jath understands the challenges that immigrants experience as they navigate embassies, agencies, and the court system. Email any comments or questions to jath@lawfirm4immigrants.com 

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