The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomed the approval this week by the Philippines’ House of Representatives’ of the Foundling Welfare Act.
The proposed law is a crucial piece of legislation that would allow foundlings — a population recognized by the Philippines as at risk of statelessness — to be recognized as Filipino citizens and allow access to government programs and services.
Foundlings are at risk of statelessness due to difficulties in establishing their parentage, on which Philippine citizenship is based.
Under the country’s present laws, foundlings are issued certificates that do not explicitly indicate their citizenship, thus hindering their access to certain rights and services.
House Bill 7679 or the Foundling Welfare Act states that foundlings are natural-born Filipino citizens regardless of the status or circumstances of their birth.
The proposed law gives foundlings the right to a birth certificate through registration with the Local Civil Registrar.
Under this measure, foundlings will be entitled to “every available government program or service,” including “registration, facilitation of documents for adoption, education, legal and policy protection, proper nourishment and medical care for survival and development.”
The bill also provides for regular and synchronized data collection to guide policymaking and programming for foundlings.
The Foundling Welfare Act, once enacted into law, would retroactively confirm all foundlings’ citizenship and address their risk of statelessness.
Its wide coverage actualizes the 2016 Supreme Court decisions favoring every foundling with a presumption of Filipino citizenship.
The House’s recent approval of the bill is a significant step forward in the Philippines’ National Action Plan to End Statelessness by 2024.
It is also a testament to the country’s commitment to addressing statelessness, as indicated in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its pledges during the High-Level Segment.
Following the final approval of the bill at the House of Representatives, its counterpart bill, Senate Bill 56 (Foundling Recognition Act) will undergo deliberation at the Senate Committees where it has been referred to.
If the Senate version is approved, it will be harmonized with House Bill 7679. The reconciled version will then be submitted to the President for his signature and eventual enactment into law.
In a statement, the UNHCR said it will continue to provide technical support to the Philippine Congress to facilitate the swift passage of the bill.