By Charissa Luci-Atienza, October 5, 2020; Manila Bulletin

The House of Representatives unanimously approved Monday (October 5) on third and final reading a measure seeking to promote the rights of deserted or abandoned children with unknown parents and to declare their status as natural-born Filipino citizens.

During Monday’s hybrid plenary session, the Lower Chamber, voting 220 with no objection and abstention, finally passed House Bill No. 7679, the proposed Foundling Welfare Act. The bill is principally authored by Ang Probinsiyano party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong.

Tingog Sinirangan partylist Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez welcomed the House’s passage of the bill, saying that it is “a crucial step towards correcting the injustice against abandoned Filipino children.”

“This proposed measure seeks to assert that the most vulnerable among us deserve our respect, care and empathy. It intends to protect and uphold the rights of children regardless of the status of their birth and whether or not their parentage is known,” she said.

Ong had called on his colleagues to put to a halt “the anomaly, injustice, and discrimination” hurled against the foundlings who have suffered not only from physical, emotional, and psychological disadvantages, but also from legal disadvantages, as they are required under the current setup to present physical proof of blood relation to a Filipino parent before they are considered natural-born citizen.

Romualdez said under HB 7679, all foundlings are entitled to a Certificate of Live Birth, instead of the Foundling Certificate currently in use.

The measure provides for the procedure for the issuance of a birth certificate to foundlings by the Office of the Civil Registrar under the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), she said.

According to her, HB 7679 guarantees a retroactive effect which means all foundlings, who have been issued Foundling Certificates will now be issued Birth Certificates, even when no adoption has yet occurred.

“The fact that foundlings are not issued Birth Certificates has left on them a stigma that they carry all their lives and has resulted even in discrimination, especially when a Birth Certificate is required when enrolling for school admission, applying for jobs, and even in being issued a passport,” Romualdez said.

“It is not surprising that many foundlings are always on the back burner, and are lost to poverty, crime, prostitution, neglect, and unemployment,” she added.

Under the measure, all foundlings are entitled to equal access to government programs and services, including, facilitation of documents for adoption, education, legal and police protection, and to basic social services such as education, healthcare and nutrition.

HB 7679 tasks the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), including all accredited DSWD child-caring centers and licensed and accredited social welfare agencies to conduct proactive and diligent search and inquiry into the facts of birth and parentage of abandoned children or infants.

To be penalized under the measure are those persons who would use the status of a child as foundling in a derogatory manner or who would cause dishonor to a foundling as a second-class citizen, and those who would discriminate against foundlings in terms of education, scholarship, practice of profession, and services.

Under the measure, any individual found to be filing a malicious complaint for the purpose of harassing, persecuting, or injuring a foundling would be penalized with a P1-million to P5-million fine and imprisonment of three months to two years.

The authors of the bill said the measure is “in accordance with the ruling of the Supreme Court in 2016 that foundlings are natural-born citizens, as well as with the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, which recognizes a child’s right to an identity and a nationality.”

Other authors of the measure are Precious Castelo (Quezon City), Evelina Escudero (Sorsogon), Juliet Marie De Leon Ferrer (Negros Occidental), Christopher De Venecia (Pangasinan), Paz Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City), Anna Marie Villaraza-Suarez (Alona), Degracias Victor “DV” Savellano (Ilocos Sur), Rosanna “Ria” Vergara (Nueva Ecija), Ann Hofer (Zamboanga Sibugay), Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba (Bukidnon), Kristine Alexie Tutor (Bohol), Josefina Tallado (Camarines Norte), Joy Myra Tambunting (Parañaque City), John Reynald Tiangco (Navotas City), Geraldine Roman (Bataan), Raymond Democrito Mendoza (TUCP), Diego “Nonoy” Ty (Misamis Occidental), Irene Gay Saulog (Kalinga), Divina Grace Yu (Zamboanga del Sur), Ruth Mariano-Hernandez (Laguna), Resurreccion Acop (Antipolo City), Maria Fe Abunda (Eastern Samar), Ma. Lourdes Arroyo (Negros Occidental), Arlene Brosas (Gabriela), Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan), Eufemia “Ka Femia” Cullamat, Marlyn “Len” Alonte (Biñan City), Alyssa Sheena Tan (Isabela), and Maximo Dalog Jr. (Mountain Province).