POSTSCRIPT / March 30, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How to join petition for US citizenship

CLASS ACTION: Roughly half of readers inquiring about the petition of seven Filipinos for the US embassy to issue them American passports wanted to know (1) if they, readers born before 1946, also qualify as US nationals/citizens or (2) if they could join the petition.

Re (1) above, we told them we were not competent to judge their citizenship or nationality. As for (2), those who are similarly situated may join the petitioners in what we see as a brewing class action.

Having publicized the petition, we became a traffic junction of the ensuing email and text exchange. We answered many of the queries, printed the more interesting ones, and forwarded most of the rest to persons who may be able to act on them. We still get email.

For the benefit of those coming in only now, we will attempt a simplified recap of the logic of the petition filed by seven Cebuanos born in the Philippines before July 4, 1946.

* * *

RECAP OF ARGUMENT: In effect, the petitioners said in a letter sent to and received by the office of US Consul General David T. Donahue last Jan. 22:

  1. Under the US Constitution, as amended, all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are American citizens.
  2. From April 11, 1898 (ratification of the Treaty of Paris wherein Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the US) to July 4, 1946 (US withdrawal of sovereignty over the islands), the Philippines was an American territory and its natives subject to US jurisdiction.
  3. Having been born during that period in an American territory under US jurisdiction, the petitioners were born American citizens.

* * *

MASS DENATURALIZATION: In its response last March 12 signed by vice consul Laura Biedebach, the US embassy rejected their application for American passports because, it said, the petitioners were not Americans in the eyes of US law.

The embassy conceded though that Filipinos during that time (the Commonwealth period) were American nationals, but not citizens. What is the difference? Please refer to the last Postscript of March 28, 2004.

The embassy added that all natives who had not acquired US citizenship by July 4, 1946, lost their US nationality and became citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.

But Gambito said yesterday that US citizens could not be arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship without due process. There is no such thing as mass denaturalization, he said.

* * *

VISIT AMPOY SITE: There is still a long road ahead. Gambito said the petitioners would elevate the case to the US Department of State. We see the group exhausting all administrative remedies before going to court.

Those who want to follow the twists and turns of the case and those who want to join in as co-petitioners may visit in the Internet.

This is not a first-time action of inhabitants of a US territory claiming US citizenship. There had been similar cases filed by Filipinos but thrown out by district and appeals courts in the United States.

One such case was filed in 1985 by lawyer Elly Velez Pamatong (the would-be presidential candidate dropped weeks ago as a nuisance by the Commission on Elections).

Another petition was filed in 1990 by lawyer Gamaliel G. Bongco (also the lawyer of then President Cory Aquino when she sued STAR publisher Max V. Soliven and columnist Louie Beltran for libel in late 1980s).

* * *

PAMATONG CASE: As editor-publisher of a FilAm newspaper in San Francisco in the 1980s, we reported on the Pamatong case. Readers then took it as a novel step taken by Filipinos who felt they were being harassed by immigration agents.

Pamatong’s clients were Filipinos in California who were being deported. His line of defense was that they could not be deported because they were Americans — using basically the same argument now being used by the seven petitioners.

But the hearing just tapered off, if we remember right, when Pamatong failed to show that his clients were legal residents who were under the jurisdiction of the regional court in San Francisco.

(As a curious layman, we recalled the same issue of jurisdiction in the class suit filed in Hawaii by victims of Marcos torture. Can a Honolulu judge hear a petition of overseas aliens who had never set foot on American soil and are obviously beyond his legal reach?)

* * *

BENPRES SIDE: With everything thrown at Benpres Holdings Corp. on the government takeover of Maynilad Water Services Inc., we now put in the side of Benpres.

Denying there was a “bailout” by government, Benpres chairman Oscar M. Lopez asked: “How can it be a bailout when the Lopez Group is completely writing off its equity investment of $80 million? If there was a political deal with the government, how come in addition to our loss in Maynilad, Meralco’s rates have remained unadjusted?”

In addition to writing off Benpres’s equity investment to put Maynilad on healthy financial footing, Lopez said Maynilad had improved water service in the West Zone, as follows:

  1. Paid more than $200 million out of $800 million in concession loans assumed from MWSS, before stopping payments in 2001.
  2. Implemented P4.3 billion in capital projects.
  3. Connected 194,098 new consumers to the network, 74,266 of them among the urban poor through its ground-breaking BayanTubig program. Water service connections as of end-2003 numbered 585,989
  4. Improved coverage to 85 percent of the population from 63 percent.

* * *

MULTI-PARTY SOLUTION: The MWSS-Maynilad agreement took months to hammer out and involved not just Benpres but over 20 creditor banks, Lopez said. In addition, the agreement must still be approved by the receiver and the court.

Lopez said his family has too often been made convenient whipping boys for their participation in utilities.

He said: “We have too seldom been recognized for the good that we have done. We are proud to have accomplished much in Maynilad in the last six and a half years. We are not leaving a desolate and financially unsound company as the misinformed wish to believe, and definitely there was no mismanagement of the water utility.”

He said Maynilad could have pursued the rehabilitation case in court that could have dragged for years. But this would have risked the quality of water service delivery to more than one-half of Metro Manila’s population.

Instead, Maynilad agreed to reorganize to address both government and creditor issues, at the sacrifice of shareholder interest.

* * *

MORE DETAILS: The reorganization actually calls for all stakeholders to share the pain, either writing off existing equity or converting debt to equity. This will assure uninterrupted service and a stable, tempered tariff structure for water consumers.

Benpres will lose all its original equity investment. Benpres also committed a portion of its receivables to fund the Employee Share Ownership plan and any remaining receivables will be converted to a minority equity stake.

Ondeo (the French partner in Maynilad) will also infuse fresh cash into the concession to cover a partial draw on the performance bond, which creditor banks have agreed to allow. Creditor banks have also agreed to a partial debt to equity conversion.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 30, 2004)

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