MANILA -- The House Committee on Justice has approved a bill seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to basketball player Justin Brownlee.
The bill was originally authored by 1PACMAN Rep. Mikee Romero.
In his explanatory note, Romero cited that Brownlee was first known to Filipinos in the 2016 PBA Governors Cup, where he led Barangay Ginebra to its first championship in eight years. Romero recalled that Brownlee gave the Gin Kings two more titles in the 2017 Governor's Cup and in the recently-concluded Commissioner's Cup where he was also named Best Import.
"He has brought enormous pride and joy to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), as well as to all basketball enthusiasts in the country. Justin Brownlee said he can have a house here just like Norman Black or other imports who have fallen in love with the Filipinos and the Philippines." Romero said.
"With a very decorated and illustrious career, he wishes to play for the Philippine national team, he also wants the Philippines to be his permanent home. At present, he continues with his efficient sportive activities and is socially active through community service. Justin Donta Brownlee is dependable when it comes to helping Filipinos -- a true mark of a Filipino spirit and character."
"Today, we have this distinct opportunity of providing our Gilas Pilipinas men's basketball team with a truly dependable ally in their quest to proudly represent our country in the upcoming February 2023 sixth and final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers which will be hosted by our very own country the Philippines and the FIBA World Cup 2023," Romero said in his sponsorship speech during the deliberation.
During the deliberation, Justice Committee Chair, Negros Occidental 4th District Rep. Juliet Marie de Leon Ferrer, acknowledged that time is running out for Brownlee to acquire Filipino citizenship prior to the upcoming FIBA qualifiers next year.
"With respect to the current application of Mr. Brownlee, the chair acknowledges the tight schedule before the next window for the FIBA qualifiers in February next year, considering that we only have until December 14th or less than a month for both Houses of Congress to pass the bill on 3rd reading before we go on a month long break until January 23rd next year," Ferrer said in her opening remarks.
State counsel Melvin Suarez told lawmakers Brownlee has no derogatory record on file with the National Prosecution Service and that it is within the power of Congress to grant Brownlee Filipino citizenship by legislation.
The Department of Foreign Affairs also has no objections or no derogatory records on Brownlee.
The Office of Solicitor General, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Immigration also cleared the grant of citizenship.
The NBI suggested the inclusion of a provision on the revocation of the naturalization in case of the commission of crimes of moral turpitude, observe immoral indecent conduct like polygamy, or adherence to ideologies which support violence force or threats as a means to achieve agenda.
The NBI also wants to require that Brownlee remain of good moral character and adhere to the laws of the land and that he show and exert genuine efforts and interest in embracing and desiring Filipino customs, traditions, culture and ideals.
"Just want to become a citizen, help out the national team. I've had a lot of love from the fans and the people here, it just seems that it would be great to be a part of the country and just keep helping out as much as I can with the national team and hopefully I can just be an inspiration to people and kids and help to better basketball here and to just to do whatever I can to just be better and a good citizen here," responded Brownlee.
Deputy Speaker Ronaldo Puno recalled this will be the fourth naturalization law for a sports figure after Marcus Douthit, Andray Blatch and Ange Kouame.
Puno explained that other countries have also had naturalized players for its national teams such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Qatar, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.
"It's time for us to pony up because the international basketball game has changed." Puno told his colleagues.
Romero also told his colleagues Brownlee volunteered to be naturalized.
Brownlee cited the happiness of Filipinos even if they are not fortunate when he was asked what he liked about the Philippines.
Brownlee also assured lawmakers he will not participate in any violence, inside or outside basketball games.
Speaker Martin G. Romualdez, for his part, welcomed Brownlee's naturalization in a Facebook post.
"Ngayong araw ay sinisimulan na natin dito sa Kongreso ang 'Naturalization Process' ng basketball player na si Justin Brownlee. Ito ay isang paraan ng paggagawad ng Filipino citizenship sa isang foreigner na nais kilalanin at makamit ang buong karapatan bilang isang Pilipino." Romualdez said.
"Bilang isang sports fan at supporter ng mga #AtletangPinoy, tayo po ay nagagalak sa pagnanais ni Justin Brownlee na maging isang ganap na Pilipino, at makasama sa Gilas Pilipinas na lalaban sa FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian qualifiers sa Pebrero."
The bill will be submitted to the full House for action.