Foundlings, according to the dictionary, are “babies or small children who were abandoned by their parents, usually in places such as hospitals, churches, or government offices.” This is not the same case with orphans as a foundling’s parents are still alive but nowhere to be found. In the absence of a law, a foundling is at risk of “statelessness” due to difficulties in establishing his or her parentage. If there is no citizenship, a foundling could not access certain rights and services, making them vulnerable to various challenges such as deprivation or discrimination.
To once and for all remove the risk of statelessness of the foundlings, President Duterte early this month signed Republic Act 11767, or the “Foundling Recognition and Protection Act,” a law that guarantees the rights of the deserted or abandoned babies with unknown parents and recognizing their status as natural-born citizens.
According to the explanatory note of RA 11767, it states that “an abandoned child found in the Philippines or in Philippine embassies, consulates, and territories abroad is presumed a natural-born Filipino citizen, regardless of the status or circumstances of birth. As a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a foundling is accorded with rights and protections at the moment of birth equivalent to those belonging to such class of citizens whose citizenship does not need perfection or any further act.”
“The presumption of natural-born status of a foundling may not be impugned in any proceeding unless substantial proof of foreign parentage is shown,” according to the law. It also added that a deserted child shall be acknowledged a natural-born Filipino citizen, “even though his or her birth certificate was simulated, his or her legal adoption was not processed, or his or her registration was delayed.”
“In the event that the biological parents cannot be identified and located, the foundling shall be declared legally available for adoption, subject to existing laws, rules, and regulations and taking into consideration the best interest of the child. Once the adoption is finalized, the adopted foundling shall be considered the legitimate child of the adopter for all intents and purposes.”
The adopted foundling, according to RA 11767, is also entitled to the rights and obligations provided by law to legitimate children born to them without discrimination of any kind. The law also includes the provision of a safe haven for infants who are abandoned or thrown in garbage areas or left on sidewalks.
On the part of the Senate, Senators Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros welcomed the signing of RA 11767, saying that “it is a victory for both the adopted children and their parents.”
Poe, a foundling herself, expressed her gratitude to the President while pointing out her experiences when she ran for the presidency in 2016. “It is exactly my experiences in that period that opened my eyes to the necessity of the law,” Poe said. “I experienced firsthand how foundlings were subjected to undue scrutiny for something that is completely outside their control. Such unfair treatment has made me realize that ample safeguards must be institutionalized to protect them from future attacks and declare, once and for all, that they are Filipinos who must be accorded with the same rights and privileges that are granted upon their fellow countrymen.”
Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children and Family Relations, also the principal author of Senate Bill 2233 which became RA 11767, welcomed the signing of the foundling law, noting that abandoned children are the most vulnerable in society.
“The passage of this bill shows the government’s commitment to give the greatest protection to the rights and welfare of our children, not least by recognizing their very existence,” Hontiveros said.
In an interview, Poe shared that her last conversation with her mom, the late actress Susan Roces, was informing her about the passage of the law. “Perhaps she (Roces) told my dad (the late Fernando Poe Jr.) — ‘My job here is done. Your child will no longer be mistreated. There is now a law recognizing children like her.’”
May this law, as what the senator said, “provide peace of mind and closure to those who seek until this very day. May it also remind the (foundlings) that regardless of where they came from, they are just as important and worthy as anybody else.”