Is citizenship a feeling?

Is it really that difficult to determine birth and citizenship?

It has been more than two weeks since the mystery of Bamban Mayor Alice Guo surfaced, and we are still no closer to determining her nationality and more importantly, her role in the illegal operations conducted by a Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) company in her town. Instead, we have been treated to a telenovela-like series of twists that include secret tunnels under villas and love child origins. At this point, it does not matter whether the mayor will ever remember anything about her past. Citizenship is not based merely on beliefs and feelings. The determination of birth and citizenship should go beyond self-report and instead be based on documented evidence. By allowing the media’s focus to jump from one sensational detail to another, we risk losing sight of the bigger picture: that illegal and heinous acts were committed repeatedly in a compound a few hundred meters from the Bamban Municipal Hall.

As I write, I am waiting for my son’s Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) birth certificate to be delivered. I was advised to wait at least six months before requesting, to guarantee that the PSA had received and processed my son’s information from our local city. I also realized I had forgotten to pick up his baptismal certificate which was supposed to be ready months ago. As I can attest, a parent can forget to get these things done. However, months late is very different from 17 years, as the mayor claims. Upon checking the requirements for late registration of birth certificate, it included a certification of live birth signed by a physician, doula, or midwife. A parent’s signature is not enough. Her father should have also submitted an affidavit of late registration, explaining the reason why the birth was not registered within 30 days. There should also be affidavits from two witnesses who were there at the child’s birth. They should also supply three additional documents that prove the validity of the child’s full name, date of birth, and birthplace.

I realize that, if what the mayor says about her birth is true, then her late registration of birth should produce all this corroborating evidence. We should be able to identify a midwife and other witnesses at the time of her birth. We should be able to see the stated explanation for why her birth certificate was registered 17 years late. We should also be able to see what other identification documents (IDs) she produced to support her application for late registration. Regardless of the mayor’s testimony and memory, the facts of her birth can—and should—be ascertained. Her citizenship requires other evidence, such as proof that her mother is a Filipino. As was determined in the Senate hearings, the mother also does not have any birth record. Her father also holds a Chinese passport and is therefore considered a Chinese national (despite claiming to be Filipino in her birth certificate).

Aside from the matter of her birth certificate, there are other evidence they can identify. What other ID does she have? Even if she was an out-of-school youth and therefore have no school records, there are other aspects of daily life that would require an ID. Was she able to travel at all within her first 17 years? Even if it were only domestic travel by air, one needs to show an ID. If she holds a Philippine passport, and assuming that it was obtained after her registration of birth certificate, she should have submitted IDs that predated her birth certificate. You can imagine how circular these requirements are, as most IDs require a birth certificate as well. This is an administrative headache for people who find themselves without adequate identification, which is why registering a birth certificate as soon as possible is important.

Ako po ay isang Filipino (I am a Filipino),” insists Guo, both in an interview with Karen Davila and in the ongoing Senate hearings with Sen. Risa Hontiveros, despite the senator showing inconsistencies in her birth certificate. It is possible that the mayor fully believes this, especially if she had been made to believe that her mother is Filipino despite never having met her. However, citizenship is not solely a belief, especially if there are other proven misrepresentations in her birth certificate, such as her father’s citizenship.

The matter of her citizenship and subsequent eligibility for an elected government position can be determined even without the mayor’s admission. The pursuit of so many details to her overall story are diversions that ultimately benefit her as this will obfuscate from the most important investigation of illegal behavior. Whether she is Filipino or not, she needs to explain her multiple connections with Pogo companies engaged in scams and human trafficking. She needs to answer for the numerous conflicts of interest between her private ventures and her exercise of governmental powers.