A name and identity
Fans may see her story as telenovela stuff: An abandoned baby found on the steps of a church gets adopted by movie royalty, grows up to be a senator, and is now a possible contender for the presidency.
But for certain quarters, Sen. Grace Poe’s foundling story provides ample opportunity to question her Filipino citizenship and qualifications for public office. A petition filed by Rizalito David claims, among other things, that she is not qualified to seek public office because, as a foundling, she is not a natural-born Filipino.
Earlier, functionaries of the political party UNA said that, as a foundling, Poe is stateless and of doubtful citizenship. To which the senator had a poignant retort: “Porke ba pulot di na pwedeng mangarap (Do foundlings have no right to dream)?”
To stress that point further, Poe recently filed Senate Bill No. 2892, to streamline the system of birth registration of foundlings and of children in need of special protection. The bill obliges “persons in custody of foundlings to bring them, within 48 hours, to either barangay or police officials, a child-care foundation, or the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
If no guardian or caregiver is found, the DSWD or custodian “should register the child within 60 days and obtain a Certificate of Live Birth for the foundling,” according to the bill, also known as an Act Strengthening the System of Birth Registration of Children in Need of Special Protection (CNSP).
Based on a briefer from the National Statistics Office, a foundling is a “deserted or abandoned infant or child found or a child committed to the DSWD or duly licensed institution, with unknown facts of birth and parentage.”
The briefer also defines CNSP as minors “below 18 years or 18 years old and above but are unable to take care of themselves due to a physical and mental disability or condition; those who are vulnerable to or are victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation, cruelty, discrimination and violence” and similar abuses.
Included in the CNSP list are sexually/physically abused children, children in commercial sexual exploitation, those in conflict with the law or involved in armed conflict, working children or victims of child labor; those in various circumstances of disability, those directly affected by HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; street children, children in substance abuse, mentally challenged children, abandoned children or those without primary caregivers, as well as displaced or refugee children.
According to Poe, this vulnerable and disadvantaged group is in greater need of protection because the nonregistration of their birth makes them invisible to state agencies that may inadvertently exclude them from priority programs on health, nutrition, education and protection. The abandoned children are particularly subject to stigma, a point to which Poe herself can attest.
Worse, with no birth records, they are officially nonexistent and are easy prey to traffickers who would take advantage of their uncertain and low status. According to Poe, of 98 million Filipinos, 7.5 million are vulnerable to trafficking because there is no birth record to trace the minor’s real identity and parentage.
Birth registration is also needed for school enrollment, job application and travel, not to mention a requirement for official government IDs.
While most hospitals and maternity clinics have birth records, the same is not true in home births common in remote areas. The inconvenience and expense involved in birth registration, as well as sheer ignorance of its importance and the future consequences of its lack, also make it a last priority in rural households more concerned about the immediate means to feed this extra mouth. Not surprisingly, according to Unicef, as many as 10 percent of Filipino children remain unregistered, usually in rural areas.
Poe noted that foundlings have a separate registration structure that “has often resulted in confusion and discrimination of the child.” Her measure seeks to accord foundlings the same registration process as other children in need of special protection.
This bill certainly deserves support, and not only because it echoes Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which state: “Every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name.”
Simply put, the measure seeks to provide every child the right to basic protection and services from the state, and with it, the requisite tools and opportunities to pursue their dreams.
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