MANILA - A 70-year-old man from the southern Philippine island Mindanao is facing Philippine immigration law woes after acquiring his Japanese father's citizenship, an officer of a nonprofit organization helping him said Tuesday.
Norihiro Inomata of the Philippine Nikkei-Jin Legal Support Center said the predicament of Bienvenido Toshio Shin from Bukidnon Province with Philippine immigration law started in July when he was preparing for a trip scheduled this week to Japan.
Inomata said that after acquiring a Japanese passport following the Tokyo Family Court's approval last March of his petition to be recognized as a Japanese citizen, Shin was then classified by Philippine immigration authorities as an overstaying foreign national.
As such, he is estimated to owe the Philippine government close to P1.5 million (around $34,300) in penalties for his "unauthorized" stay in the country since his birth in April 1944.
"I felt like I crumbled. How can I pay that? I don't have a big income," Shin, who tends a small vegetable farm and runs a small store in Bukidnon, told Kyodo News while in Manila.
"I know I did not violate any law because I was really born here and I grew up as a Filipino," he said, speaking in the Cebuano dialect.
According to the center, Shin was born the son of Eiji Shin, a native of Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, who came to the Philippines before World War II, and a Filipino woman in what is now known as Malalag town in Davao del Sur Province, also in Mindanao.
When the war broke out, Shin's father was called into the Japanese Army while his mother hid in the mountains with him for their safety. They never met since then.
"I have no memory of my father because I was only 5 months old when he left us. I didn't even have his photograph. When I grew up, I used my mother's surname, which is Fernandez, since my father was no longer around," Shin said.
It was only in 2005 when Shin sought the help of Inomata's center for him to recover his father's nationality.
After conducting some research, the center, which gets support from the Nippon Foundation, was able to locate the family registry of Shin's father in 2009.
Two years later, Shin filed a petition to have his own family registry in Japan. On March 3 this year, the Tokyo Family Court approved it.
"I was really happy when it was approved, and when I got my Japanese passport because I really want my children to be able to work in Japan," Shin said.
According to Inomata, Shin was scheduled to leave for Japan on Tuesday for a reunion with his Japanese relatives and to visit his father's grave in Kagoshima.
The Philippine immigration bureau denied the center's request for the fines and penalties on Shin to be waived.
A last-minute appeal Monday, a day before the scheduled departure, was also futile, prompting Shin to stay behind.
In requesting "special and extraordinary humanitarian considerations" with the immigration bureau for the full waiver of fines and penalties on Shin, the center's lawyer, Josue Sim Zuniega, asserted Shin was "a victim of circumstances brought about by World War II."
"He will be traveling for the first time outside the Philippines for the purpose of briefly visiting his Japanese father's homeland at the sunset of his lifetime, he being 70 years old,' Zuniega said in a letter to the bureau.
"At age 70, he resides in the hinterlands of Kitaotao, Bukidnon, Mindanao, where he was a farmer during his productive years; he is unemployed, and totally has no means of paying penalties and fees imposed by the Honorable Bureau," he added.
As of press time, Shin is still awaiting the immigration bureau's final decision.
Zuniega said he hopes Philippine immigration authorities will come up with a regulation or a policy that accords special consideration for cases such as that of Shin.
According to Inomata, his organization is still attending to at least 26 pending petitions of Filipino-Japanese descendants at the Tokyo Family Court, and around 40 other cases are being planned for filing next year.
Since 2004, the center was already able to help 129 Filipino-Japanese descendants acquire Japanese citizenship, including Shin.
The center estimates there were around 3,000 second-generation Filipino-Japanese descendants in the Philippines, of whom, nearly 900 were not registered with the Japanese government due to unfavorable conditions after the war.
Almost all their Japanese fathers arrived in the Philippines before WWII.