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Philippines: Persons of Indonesian Descent families benefit from late civil registration in Glan

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Loreta and Alpius Lahama, Sr. pose in front of the medals acquired by their children throughout the years. © UNHCR/F. Tanggol

In the southern part of the Philippines, Persons of Indonesian Descent are being assisted by UNHCR and government partners in finding solutions for their legal identity needs.

GLAN, Sarangani – The small town of Glan may look like any other agricultural community in southern Mindanao, but a closer look reveals that this municipality has one of the largest population of Persons of Indonesian Descent (PIDs) in the Philippines. With 200 kilometres of sea travel between Glan and the Northern Sulawesi province of Indonesia, people have traditionally journeyed and migrated between the two islands.

Alpius Lahama, Sr., 56 years old, is one of the PIDs residing in Glan, Sarangani. He was born from Indonesian parents in Glan where he has built a family with his 51-year old Filipino wife, Loreta, and their eight children Cherrina, Jocilyn, Alpius, Jr., Margelyn, Jovelyn, Melca Ace, Asherah Grace, and Czamelle. Alpius is a fisherman while his wife stays at home to take care of their children.

“We were classmates in elementary, but we didn’t finish our education. We had what is called ‘puppy love’ then we found forever,” Loreta recalls.

“My parents’ tribe is called Sanger from the Sanger Island in Tahuna. When my parents were young, they came and met here in Mindanao. They married here and this is where all of us siblings were born,” shares Alpius.

The local government estimates that around 3,000 PIDs reside in Glan, scattered in different barangays (villages) in their municipality. When UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, conducted an assessment of the PIDs, over 8,000 PIDs registered from different parts of Mindanao.

Many adult PIDs and their children are at-risk of statelessness because they are unfamiliar with the citizenship laws of Indonesia and the Philippines. In Glan, those residing in remote communities were especially at risk.

“There are remote areas in Glan which makes it difficult to register newborns and the Indonesians themselves may not be aware that they need to register,” says Delia G. Bantawig, the municipal registrar of Glan. The local civil registrar is responsible for recording crucial acts and events which affect the civil status of individuals in the municipality.

“They can apply for late registration but there are also a lot of requirements where they have to show proof such as baptismal certificates or school records,” Delia adds.

Alpius has an official Indonesian passport and he has an Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) in the Philippines which he renews every year. However, he says there are many PIDs that don’t have any documentation in their community.

“It’s like they fall through the cracks,” explains Loreta. “If they are Filipino, they have no proof that they are Filipino. If they are Indonesian, they also have nothing to show.”

Alpius and Loreta lived together since 1978 but decided to officially marry in 1994 so they will have a marriage certificate. It was also during this time that they also decided to apply for late registration for their children as the schools were already beginning to look for the birth certificates upon enrolment in addition to the marriage certificate.

“A child who does not have a birth certificate is not recognized. It’s like they’re colorum when they arrive in this world since they have no papers,” says Loreta, referring to a slang Filipino term for illegal public transportation. “Birth certificates are also very useful when they start classes from day care, to high school and college. And when they go abroad, a birth certificate is also what they need to hold. That’s how important a birth certificate is. It’s really difficult if there’s no birth certificate nowadays.”

The need for legal documentation is a global development issue included in target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing the need for legal identity for all, including birth registration.

For the Lahama family, having a birth certificate means the education of their children continues. All eight of their kids have gone through elementary and secondary education, with some also going to the university. Their school achievements are proudly displayed in their home indicating the importance of education in their family.

Today, all the children have civil documents but it is Loreta who does not have a birth certificate. Their seventh child, Asherah Grace, also has an error in her birth certificate which needs correcting.

In 2016, Loreta applied for a birth certificate and the correction of Asherah’s birth certificate in a solutions mission to determine citizenship of PIDs organized by UNHCR in partnership with the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, Public Attorney’s Office, local government units, and the Government of Indonesia. Since then, 893 have been confirmed as Indonesian and 821 confirmed as Filipino in Glan.

To help PIDs in their community, the local government of Glan recently passed an ordinance to exempt PIDs from paying late registration fees and clerical correction of entries in civil registration documents. They are the first municipality to pass a local resolution to provide specific assistance to PIDs and their family members.

“The processing fee for late registration is Php80, Php50 for verification, and Php15 for documentary stamp. The correction of clerical error is Php1,000 per document and the change of name or gender is Php3,000 per document,” explains Delia, the municipal registrar.

All of these fees have been waived thanks to the local ordinance passed by the local government of Glan.

“During the talks with the Bureau of Immigration and with the Consulate of Indonesia, we came into a decision to make that ordinance to help these people. If we will not waive these fees, they will remain until their death as a stateless person,” says Glan mayor Victor James Yap. “We have to help them for humanitarian consideration.”

With the new ordinance, PID families do not have to pay for the registration fees. The waiving of registration fees is a big help to families like the Lahama family with irregular income coming in from fishing.

“We are happy that there’s that ordinance because we really cannot afford the fees for correction. We have no money,” says Loreta. “So we are grateful to the municipality for waiving the fees.”

The birth certificates will be distributed to the Lahama family and over 100 more PIDs confirmed as Filipino in April 2017.

By Faizza Tanggol