Hundreds of stateless persons emerge from legal limbo

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2016 05:35 PM

As Philippines, Indonesia launch program to end statelessness

UNHCR graphics of where stateless persons of Indonesian descent are located

More than 600 of close to 9,000 stateless persons of Indonesian descent in the Philippines took big steps today to gaining citizenship.

Dozens of second or third generations of stateless folk were registered as opting for either Indonesian or Philippine citizenship in Glan, Sarangani, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The agency has been helping the two countries formally absorb stateless persons as part of the global #IBelong campaign.

More than a hundred people attended registration rites and consultation, UNHCR external relations associate Gina Maramag told ABS-CBN News in a telephone interview. By weekend, some 664 will receive documents required to resolve their stateless status, she said.

Only a few, however, actually received citizenship documents due today to remaining legal problems, including the high cost of the process.

Kampiong Monoke and his daughter, Rachelle, received their papers from Agus Majid, vice consul at the Indonesian consulate in Davao City.

Maramag said Monoke, a farmer, has three other family members in the program. But he still has to raise funds needed for the others identification and nationality papers.

Kampiong Monoke (center in green) and his daughter, Rachelle Monoke (in red t-shirt), farmers, were the first stateless persons of Indonesian descent to receive citizenship papers in ceremonies held today in Glan, Sarangani province.

Others, from left, Melvin Suarez from the Department of Justice, Meck Magno from UNHCR. Dinah Jean Cornejo from the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), Alex Bacarro of the DOJ, Agus Majid, vice consul at the Indonesian consulate in Davao City; Pedrito Lopez Jr. and Dennis Matteo of the Bureau of Immigration and Arcee Pila of PASALI Philippines.

The Monoke family have chosen to retain Indonesian citizenship.

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Maramag said 8,745 persons of Indonesian descent live in remote hamlets and islands in Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, General Santos City and Davao City.

These areas face seas with porous maritime borders. Indonesians, Filipinos and Malaysians have crisscrossed for centuries in cycles of mixed migration.

Many of the stateless Indonesians come from seafaring peoples in coastal areas that have seen fluid mixed migration for centuries.

The Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Indonesian consulate are spearheading this phase of UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign, with help from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Bureau of Immigration.

Generations

The campaign started with a mapping process in 2012 and the start of registration and confirmation of applicants’ antecedents last year.

“Some of these people’s families arrived in 1874!” the Justice Department’s Alex Bacarro told ABS-CBN News. “They are second or even third-generation settlers.’

Some have grandfathers who settled here and married locals from the 1940s to the 1970s, Maramag said.

Most of the stateless Indonesians come from impoverished rural families engaged in subsistence farming or fishing.

Some of these people’s parents carried alien certificates of registration but were too poor to afford annual renewal, Maramag said. Most have limited access to information about their rights and nationality procedures.

Of the 664 awardees, 538 will be confirmed Filipino and 128 Indonesians, Maramag said.

Daunting problems remain, according to Bacarro.

Republic Act No. 9139, or the administrative naturalization law, decrees that approved applicants have to pay P100,000 – P50,000 upon approval of the petition and the balance upon taking the oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines.

Those who opt to take Indonesian citizenship will have to pay arrears in their alien certificates of registration and the costs of documentation.

Few of the applicants can afford these fees, Bacarro said.

There is a plan to ask legislators from the covered provinces to push a law granting citizenship to the applicants, he told ABS-CBN News. This would free them from having to pay the hefty fees.

The Indonesian government, on the other hand, may ask President Benigno Aquino III to waive arrears in alien registration fees, with a proviso that they follow legal process from hereon.

The UNHCR said the #IBelong campaign aims to end statelessness by 2024.

“The Stateless people and those at risk of statelessness are sometimes not registered in either country and have lost their connection with their former countries of origin,” the agency said.

UNHCR commended the Philippines for its efforts to consider acceding to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which establishes an international framework to ensure the right of every person to a nationality by establishing safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth and later in life.

“Without nationality, they cannot enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of movement, to formal education, to access social services and to own property,” the agency pointed out. “They have often have poor access to basic services like affordable healthcare and higher education.”