Romualdez vows protection for foundlings

Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt-Romualdez
Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez

THE chairperson of the House committee on the welfare of children on Tuesday vowed to work for the swift passage of the proposed “Foundling Welfare Act” aimed at promoting the rights of abandoned children with unknown parents and declaring them as natural-born Filipino citizens.

Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, panel chairperson, made the assurance after her committee during a virtual hearing via
Zoom Monday afternoon approved, subject to amendments, House Bill (HB) 3472 or the proposed Foundling Welfare Act that is principally authored by Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong.

“We will do our best to approve this bill immediately in the House of Representatives. We are committed to promote and protect the rights of the abandoned children,” Romualdez said on the measure that was approved upon the motion of Gabriela Women’s party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas.

The filing of the bill was an offshoot of the absence of a legal framework that fully recognizes the foundlings as bonafide Filipino citizens, said Romualdez.

Being a foundling, Romualdez said the abandoned child has to cope with the harsh reality of being abandoned by his/her family.

The committee also formed a technical working group (TWG) that would consolidate and harmonize the more than a dozen bills to establish an "Alternative Child Care Code” and simplify the process of adopting abandoned and neglected children in the country.

“These bills (Foundling Welfare Act and Codifying all Alternative Child Care Laws) were already identified as part of our Committee’s legislative priorities and were originally scheduled for deliberation prior to the Enhanced Community Quarantine in March. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our attention into the plight of children and the promotion of their welfare during this health crisis,” Romualdez told the panel.

“With the intention of providing abandoned and neglected children a second chance at having the family care and love that they deserve, this bill seeks to harmonize our existing laws involving the adoption of children, including, a simplified, accessible and streamlined procedure for adoption, foster care and other modes of alternative child care. It also seeks to establish a one-stop agency for the adoption of children and making the adoption process administrative in nature,” said Romualdez in her sponsorship speech of HB 5581 or “An Act Codifying the Alternative Child Care Laws and Providing Funds Therefore.”

In defending his measure, Ong underscored the importance to pass HB 3472 or the proposed Foundling Welfare Act, which primarily aims to promote the rights of foundlings and to be recognized as natural born citizens.

He lamented that the present laws require children whose parentage are unknown to present physical proof of blood relation to a Filipino parent before he or she is considered a natural-born citizen.

These legal barriers, Ong said placed foundlings at a disadvantage position and tremendously disenfranchises them as the failure of the
child to fulfill the legal requirements obliged by the law is tantamount to the denial of their full rights bestowed upon all Filipino children.

“Good afternoon (Monday) Chairwoman Yedda, to my other colleagues and to the resource persons. Thank you very much for your time. Simple lang po why we filed this bill and it has always been our marching slogan- the best interest of the child. On top of physical, emotional and psychological disadvantages, there are a lot of legal disadvantages too for a foundling or someone abandoned with unknown facts of birth and parentage,” Ong told the panel in his sponsorship speech.

“For one, they are required to prove the impossible - proving their citizenship despite the unknown facts na hindi nila kasalanan.

Worse, for the simple reason na wala silang Certificate of Live Birth, we have closed the door for them to enjoy their rights as Filipinos - hindi makapasok sa school, hindi makakuha ng trabaho, hindi pwede ikasal, hindi magkaroon ng driver’s license, government scholarship, passport, etc.,” Ong stressed.

“Let us once and for all stop this anomaly, injustice and discrimination. I ask the support of our esteemed Chairperson, my colleagues and the agencies here to pass this bill and protect- not grant- the natural-born status of foundlings that has always been there,” Ong pointed out.

Under the proposed law, foundlings shall be recognized as natural-born citizens of the Philippines, without need of perfection or any further act, and shall automatically be accorded such rights and protection as those belonging to such class of citizens.

These include foundlings who are committed to orphanage, and charitable or government institutions or those who have undergone or are undergoing adoption proceedings.

The measure provides that such natural-born status of the child or infant shall not be impugned in any proceeding all the days of his or her life unless substantial proof of foreign parentage is shown. Such status shall not also be affected by the fact that the birth certificate of the child is simulated or that there was an absence of a legal adoption process, it said.

The bill tasks the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or any of its duly licensed institution or nongovernment organization (NGO) to conduct a proactive and diligent search and inquiry into the facts of birth and parentage of the child or infant, within 15 days after commitment or submission of foundling report by the finder or other concerned person, unless more time is needed in view of significant developments.

Under the bill, the penalty of arresto mayor (or at least six years of imprisonment) to prision correccional (or at least six months) shall be imposed on any person using the status of the child or person as foundling as a derogatory remark or to cause dishonor to the child or person as a second-class citizen.

While, a fine ranging from P200,000 to P1 million or imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than one year, at the discretion of the court, shall be imposed on any individual discriminating against foundlings in terms of education, scholarship, practice of profession, etc., delaying the delivery of services due to them or requiring them to prove their parentage before they can exercise their rights as natural-born citizens.

The penalty of prision correccional to prision mayor shall be imposed on any private individual involved in the falsification of the registration of the supposed foundling, including the documents required therefor, the bill provides.

Any public officer involved shall be punished by the penalty next higher in degree, it said.

The penalty of imprisonment of not less than six months but not more than five years shall be imposed on the finder, DSWD or NGO staff, police officers, city, municipal and barangay officers, health employees, hospital staff and any other concerned person refusing, delaying or obstructing the conduct of search and inquiry into the facts of birth and parentage of the abandoned child or infant.

A fine of P1 million to P5 million, or imprisonment of not less than three months but not more than two years, at the discretion of the court, shall be imposed on any person initiating a complaint found to be for the purpose of harassing, annoying, vexing, persecuting or injuring the foundling especially in his or her exercise of rights due to natural-born citizens, HB 3472 provides.