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Hush-hush status until they’re caught

By Focus FeaturesDecember 18, 2016

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), there were 10,238,164 Filipinos living and working overseas in a survey conducted in 2013.

And of this total, it was officially listed that there were 183,000 Filipinos residing and working in Japan in 2013.

However, in a seminar conducted at the Philippine consulate in Osaka-Kobe on the same year, it was cited that “this number is speculated by other sources to be larger, surpassing the one million mark due to many unlisted and illegal Filipino nationals.”

Despite the huge discrepancy, there is barely any report on the status of the children of illegally-staying Filipinos in Japan. Worse, there’s no record of who among them have spawned offsprings that continue to stay in the foreign land with nary a record of their birth, their existence.

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Given the sensitive and personal nature of the malady, these parents, for fear of immediate deportation and often aided by compatriots who rally around them with care and compassion, are wont to just keep on skirting Philippine embassy and Japanese authorities until such time when their children could fend for themselves.

“After all, (the children) do not usually need a passport because none of them want to go home. Either there’s no point in returning to the Philippines because their very existence is not also known back home anyway, or that, they’ve already called Japan home,” said a long-time Japan resident interviewed by the Manila Bulletin.

In fact, the source had such a “stateless” Filipina under her care. The young girl she took in years ago is now an adult, but unlike Jun who didn’t speak Nihonggo, she had grown up knowing only the Japanese language.

“She doesn’t even know how to speak Tagalog. So she doesn’t have any immediate plans to go to the Philippines,” the source added.

Besides, with jobs aplenty and the support system of Filipino compatriots solidly in place in Japan, there wasn’t much of reason to return to the Philippines.

The source underscored that “it definitely helped that Japanese immigration laws are more compassionate and less committed to castigating those who have made Japan their home, albeit, illegally.

In the case of our source’s ward, her father has since been deported, while her mother found a Japanese citizen to sponsor her continued stay in Japan, or presumably, already got married to her sponsor.

The ward was eventually able to acquire a Philippine passport, but was nevertheless allowed to stay in the country and keep her job at by Japanese authorities who found merit in the argument that “after all, all she knew was to speak and write Nihonggo, and she could only end up discriminated upon in the land of her parents’ birth.”

Unfortunately, this is not the case in other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, or in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The Philippine government estimates that there are more than two million Filipinos working in the Middle East as engineers, nurses or hospital workers, accountants, office workers, construction workers, restaurant workers and domestic helpers.

According to Susan “Toots” Ople, founder and current president of the Blas Ople Policy Center (BOPC) which assist distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) in various parts of the world, things are much worse for undocumented Filipino children and their parents in these parts of the Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia alone, laws are very strict about couples not married to each other having children of their own. Whether these relationships are adulterous or not, Shariah Law imposes stiff rigid penalties, ranging from the harsh like death by stoning or lashing, to jail time and deportation.

And should their parents get caught, jailed and punished, what happens to their children?
“When I visited the Bahay Kalinga (embassy shelter) in Riyadh, I saw quite a few domestic workers with young children, born out of wedlock. The challenge is in obtaining papers for them and in bringing the children home. Immorality is a crime in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries,” said Ople.

Given the gravity of the penalty in bearing these “stateless” Filipinos, their existence in communities “are not often talked about because of the sensitivities involved, especially when Filipinos are based in the Middle East,” Ople bared.

Ople said fear of the laws against immorality in these Middle East countries have been so great that there have been cases of Filipinas resorting to abortion, because more often than not, an offspring is proof solid of violation of Shariah Law.

“There was this case in Saudi, na nahuli isang domestic worker natin (that a domestic helper was caught) flushing her fetus in the toilet. Di ko na alam kung ano nangyari sa kanya (I don’t know what happened to her),” she said. 

But Ople disagrees that these children born out of the indiscretion of their Filipino parents, or a Filipino’s relationship with a local from the host country or any other national, should be called “stateless.”

“They are ‘stateless’ only because the child does not have a birth certificate from his or her country of birth. But from the Philippines’ perspective, these are Filipino children,” she emphasized.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also agrees.

In a statement e-mailed to the Manila Bulletin from the office of DFA Spokesman Charles Jose, it maintained that referring to these children as “stateless” would not be appropriate because “the Philippines will extend recognition and protections entitled a Filipino citizen to any child or children who has at least one Filipino parent, as long as it receives a report or a request for its intervention.”

“We have documented about 1,200 cases where our Embassies and consulates engage with concerned authorities of host or foreign governments to facilitate repatriation of these children and their parents to the Philippines,” it also said.

But it is obvious that records only arise when the erring parents get caught, or find themselves in the middle of a series of unfortunate turn of events like the parents of Jun, or the Filipina who flushed her fetus-child down the toilet.

While Filipino communities would generally frown upon illegal or immoral dalliances by compatriots, talk about any offsprings from such unions are usually muffled if only to protect the children.

“These are talked about in hushed tones. Or even talked about in Pilipino, lest some Japanese citizen could overhear and report them to authorities. We still try to protect them even if they’d gone astray and had the child,” said the Manila Bulletin’s Japan source.

More often than not, the Philippine government only gets wind of the predicament after something wrong had already happened to either or both of the parents that eventually exposes the need to inform authorities about the welfare of the offspring.

“Perhaps, it’s only then that they could record the incident of the ‘stateless’ kid,” the source added.
 
 But Foreign Affair Secretary Perfecto Yasay has acknowledged that the case of “stateless” Filipinos was “a new problem to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that needed a new police to solve.”

“This is a very complicated issue and has not been looked into,” Yasay said in the hearing on the DFA budget at the House of Representatives. “For one, it is not possible to issue a birth certificate when the person is born abroad,” he said.

In that hearing, Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles questioned Yasay about the status of the “stateless” Filipinos, defined as “illegitimate children of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who were born abroad but are not recognized as citizens by their host country.”

Nograles pointed out that these children were not being issued Philippine passports because a birth certificate, which is non-existent in many Middle Eastern and Muslim countries, is required.

“There could be thousands of these stateless Filipino children, but there’s no single government agency that looks after them,” The Filipino Times quoted Nograles as saying.
As such, he urged Yasay that the DFA should now conduct a headcount of these children so that they may be issued travel documents, which, at the very least, written and solid proof that they are citizens of the Philippines.

But for now, the best remedy for the erring parents is to seek the help of the Philippine embassy or consulate.

“There is no other recourse,” said Ople. “They can stay in the shelter of the Philippine Embassy until such time that their status and the status of their children are resolved.”

In the case of Jun, Ople noted that he may have been better off staying at the Tokyo Child Welfare Office because his father was already incarcerated and that his mother was nowhere to be found.

“This would be better for the child, considering the irresponsible, if not dangerous behavior of his parents,” she maintained.