UN agency lauds SC tack on foundlings

A top official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Philippines on Saturday lauded the recent landmark ruling of the Supreme Court allowing Senator Grace Poe to run for president in the May elections, saying the decision favored “foundlings as citizens.”

“We welcome this development to recognize foundlings as citizens of the Philippines. The country has a strong humanitarian tradition of international protection in support of those at risk of being stateless,” said Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR representative in the country.

“UNHCR commends the government of the Philippines for its ongoing efforts to consider acceding to the 1961 Convention, which establishes an international framework to ensure the right of every person to a nationality by establishing safeguards to prevent statelessness,” he added.

Senator Grace Poe

The Supreme Court, voting 9-6, said Poe was eligible to seek the highest position in the country, reversing an earlier decision of the Commission on Elections disqualifying her from the race on the grounds that she is not a natural-born citizen and has not met the 10-year residency requirement for presidential aspirants.

The High Court noted that international laws on the nationality of foundlings, including the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, “were designed to address the plight of a defenseless class which suffers from a misfortune not of their own making.”

“The Philippines was the first country in the Southeast Asia  to become party to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, which defines who is considered stateless and establishes minimum standards of treatment. Today 10 million people around the world are without any clearly defined link to an established nationality,” Kerblat said.

Kerblat said the ruling on Poe’s case is a “positive example” for other countries to follow, as foundlings are being “denied of their basic rights.”

“A child is born stateless every ten minutes. They have no freedom of movement, no access to education, social services, employment and to own property,” he said.

“This significant decision from the Supreme Court is an important step in the country’s history and once again, the Philippines is a shining example of humanitarianism in taking concrete steps to reduce statelessness in the region. It sets a positive example that member states may wish to follow,” Kerblat added.

Poe, who was abandoned as a baby at a church in Jaro, Iloilo, was adopted by the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. and veteran actress Susan Roces.

She said the Supreme Court ruling was a victory not only for her but for all foundlings in the country.

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