Share on Facebook  |  More Articles

Published Sunday July 5th, 2009 at 10:33am

Original Article by Fel V. Maragay

Philippines -- There are legions of childless couples or unmarried individuals, Filipinos or foreigners, who wish to adopt a child to make their lives a little brighter. But many of them balk from doing so because of the prevailing notion that that the process is costly, lengthy and difficult. This may have been true before. Not anymore.

Child adoption in the country has been greatly simplified and shortened, thanks to a landmark law that transformed it into a purely administrative process, free from judicial intervention. Republic Act 9523, enacted by Congress this year, transferred the process of declaring an abandoned, neglected and surrendered child legally available for adoption from the courts to the Social Welfare Department.

The effect of this legislation is that the child and the prospective adoptive parents, as well as the child-caring and -placing agencies need not have to go through a long and expensive judicial proceeding to have the child declared legally free for adoption. With the new mechanism in place, a child as young as three months, born without a family, may have an earlier start at being a member of a family that adopts him or her.

Aside from the social welfare officers of the DSWD, there is another public servant in your town or city who plays an important role in the implementation of RA 9523—the civil registrar in your town or city. After the DSWD issues a certificate that a child is legally available for adoption, the local civil registrar comes in. The registrar issues a so-called foundling certificate which should be transmitted within seven working days to the National Statistics Office.

The task of the civil registrar becomes more sensitive in handling cases of abandoned children, who are among the disadvantaged persons vulnerable to social discrimination, abuse and exploitation. They are entirely dependent on the ability and efficiency of the state in caring for them. When a foundling certificate is issued to them, they assume a legal personality in society. The foundling certificate, for all intents and purposes, serves the equivalent of a birth certificate except for the fact that it is lacking in details regarding the circumstances of their birth.

Unfortunately, a foundling certificate is not fully understood by the public. This misconception tends to create a feeling of inferiority complex for the children concerned. "Society tends to look at them differently through no fault of their own, that affects their mental and emotional well-being," laments Atty. Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, president of the Association of Child-Caring Agencies of the Philippines Gana relates the sad experience of an adopted daughter who, in the company of her adoptive mother, applied for a passport with the Foreign Affairs Department and submitted a foundling certificate, together with other supporting documents. The attending employee, visibly irked and apparently not familiar with a foundling certificate, asked "ano itong foundling certificate?" causing her and her mother embarrassment in the presence of other applicants.

For these reasons, Gana is batting for the issuance of a certificate of live birth for the abandoned children, instead of a mere foundling certificate, considering that they were also born alive. She urged the authorities concerned to look for ways to make things easier for such children who are placed at a disadvantage. "As they grow up, they start to realize that there is something that sets them apart from other children. They will have to bear with the teasing of their friends and suffer the quizzical looks of the school registrars. Need we brand them and set them apart by issuing them foundling certificates instead of certificates of live birth. Couldn't we simply put the little known facts about their birth on a birth certificate with may be an annotation of who supplied said facts?" she told members of the Philippine Association of Civil Registrars during their 10th national biennial convention at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City.

Child adoption is a legal process by which the parental authority of biological parents and the corresponding rights and obligations of the biological parents and the child toward each other are severed and transferred to adoptive parents. Adoption in the country takes the form of either domestic adoption (RA 8552) or inter-country adoption.

In her remarks, Gana also expounded on other recent legislations that have reformed the system of establishing the identities of members of society. There is Republic Act 9522, amending the Family Code, which allows children born out of wedlock, or illegitimate children to use the surname of their father if they have been expressly recognized by the father through the record appearing in the civil registry or if a private handwritten document is presented by the father. This has diminished, it no erased the stigma that is associated with being an illegitimate child.

Another is RA 9048 which makes it easier for children and their parents to have erroneous or undesirable entries in the birth certificate corrected and changed.

This law allows the correction of clerical or typographical errors or change in the name or nickname in the civil registry record without the need for a judicial order. Instead, the city or municipal registrar, or consul general in Philippine consulates abroad, to act on petitions for these corrections

RA 9048 is a breakthrough in making civil registration more child-friendly if only because it spares the child and his/her parents from the tedious process of going to the courts to correct a mistake in the civil registrar's records or change his or her name that makes him or her an object of ridicule, that is tainted with dishonor or which is extremely difficult to write or pronounce.

Atty. Gana, by the way, disputes the impression that the job of civil registrars is mechanical or ministerial just because it entails continuous recording of vital events and information in the life of a citizen such as birth, marriage, death, as well as of decrees, legal instruments and judicial orders affecting the individual.

"I tell you there is much joy to be found in being the public functionary who records the most vital events in the person's life. Yours is a role that has great meaning to others. This because through your hands pass the records of all members of the community. You keep track of the history of our lives."