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Sen. Franklin Drilon speaking at the Philippine Consulate in New York Wednesday.  (Filipino Reporter photo)

 

Philippine Sen. Franklin Drilon, principal author of the historic Dual Citizenship Law that allows former Filipino citizens to reacquire their lost Philippine citizenship, lamented the dismal number of Filipinos abroad, particularly those in the United States, who have availed of the law since it was enacted into law in 2003.

At Wednesday night’s town hall-type consultations between visiting Filipino legislators and Filipino-American community members at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center, Drilon, citing data from the Philippine immigration bureau, said barely 34,000 Filipinos who have acquired foreign citizenship overseas have reacquired their Philippine citizenship between 2004 and April 2011.

“Certainly, 34,000 is very, very small,” said Drilon, who was seated on stage with fellow Sen. Pia Cayetano, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim and Congressmen Florencio Miraflores (Lone District of Aklan), Joaquin Carlos Rahman Nava (Lone District of Guimaras) and Edgardo San Luis (Laguna, 4th District).

In the U.S., known for its large Fil-Am population, Drilon noted that the number is much more discouraging.

In the northeast, which includes the New York tri-state area, he said only 8,300 so far have become dual citizens out of an estimated half a million Filipinos in the seaboard.

In the midwestern part of Illinois, only 5,000 out of an estimated 240,000 Filipinos so far have taken advantage of it.

“I’m wondering why such a small number?” Drilon asked.

“Is there something wrong with the implementation? Maybe it’s the misconception.”

Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr., clarifying Drilon’s figure for the northeast, said there are actually 10,209 approved applications as of mid-June 2011.

The number is expected to grow further with the start of the registration of overseas absentee voting in October, de Leon said.

Consul Elena Maningat, on the other hand, said the number provided by the Philippine Bureau of Immigration could be much higher in actuality.

“I hear many are reluctant to apply for dual citizenship for fear they will lose their U.S. citizenship,” Drilon said.

“Loida Nicolas Lewis was the first one to reacquire Philippine citizenship and she’s still a U.S. citizen.”

Lewis, as former head of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), was among those who fought hard for the passage of the dual citizenship bill known as Republic Act No. 9225 or Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003.

Drilon said the consultation meeting is aimed at further improving the law to encourage more Filipinos to become dual citizens and avail of the many benefits that comes with it.

Among them, the right to own real property in the Philippines, the right to engage in business or practice one’s profession, right to travel with Philippine passport to work, study or stay indefinitely in the Philippines, the right to vote in Philippine elections or even hold public office.

Drilon dispelled another misconception of the law.

“During our consultation in Chicago, many expressed fear that once they become dual citizens, they will be subject to double taxation,” he said.

“That is not the case. Any income earned by Filipinos overseas are exempt from Philippine tax. Only income earned in the Philippines is subject to tax.”

The legislators also discussed some parts of the balikbayan program (RA 6768) and RA 9174 amending RA 6768 by providing additional benefits and privileges to balikbayans.

The Department of Tourism has re-launched the balikbayan program to encourage overseas Filipinos to come home, especially with President Benigno Aquino III declaring 2011 to 2016 as “Pinoy Homecoming Years.”

Lim said the DOT has set an aggressive arrival target for 2011 and looks at Filipinos permanently residing abroad, particularly those in the U.S., as one of the key market segments that will help achieve the 25 percent growth in arrivals.

From January to April 2011, the DOT registered a 13.33 percent increase in foreign tourist arrivals compared with the same period of 2010.

“Our 3.74 million target for the year is well within reach,” Lim said.

“And our continuing efforts on the international front, especially on trade fairs, will ensure that the target is met.”