Philippines boasts new
dual-citizenship law

Filipinos living abroad could
prove to be an important voting
bloc in next year's election

A new law that allows dual citizenship for Filipinos who have immigrated to other countries provides "the best of both worlds," according to the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu.

"Certainly this is a welcome development for members of the Philippine community here," said Eva Betita, a consul and deputy to Philippines Consul General Rolando Gregorio.

The bill was signed into law Friday by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Betita said the consulate is awaiting instructions from Manila on exactly what the process will be for those who want to have both Philippine and U.S. citizenship.

Under the new law, Filipinos who have become naturalized citizens of another country can reacquire their citizenship after taking an oath of allegiance. Their children under age 18 would also have dual citizenship.

People with dual citizenship will be allowed to vote or run for office unless they are candidates for, or are already holding public office in, the country where they have become naturalized citizens. Those in active service in a foreign country's military also will not be allowed to vote or seek public office.

"The international trend is clearly towards increasing the number of dual citizens, and we know that the majority of the Filipinos who migrated abroad did so for better opportunities, but they continue their allegiance to the Philippines," Arroyo said.

There are about 3.5 million Filipinos who have foreign citizenship, including about 1.75 million in the United States, according to Jose Apolinario Lozada Jr., chairman of the House of Representatives' committee on foreign affairs.

It is hoped that the dual citizenship bill will encourage Filipinos living abroad to buy land, open businesses, and invest in the Philippines.

"I'm sure there's great interest among the Filipinos here (in Hawaii)," Betita said. "We anticipate more calls from the public now."

Gerry Finin, a Philippines expert at the East-West Center, said he thinks most local Filipinos will not rush to become dual citizens. "I think there will be a wait-and-see attitude," Finin said.

Finin said people will be concerned about having to pay taxes in both countries.

"In the short term, the Philippines government, if they want to promote this, will have to do a sort of information campaign," Finin said.

Betita said under the law, dual citizens will only have to pay Philippines taxes on income earned in the Philippines.

The new law may also encourage people to register and vote in next year's Philippines elections. So far, registration in Hawaii and other U.S. cities has been slow. Only about 50 or 60 people have registered at the consulate in Nuuanu so far, Betita said.

The deadline to register is at the end of September.

Arroyo said the new law is the twin of the Absentee Voting Law passed earlier this year that allows many of about 7.8 million Filipinos overseas to vote.

The overseas Filipinos could be a crucial voting bloc, accounting for about 10 percent of the electorate. About 38 million people were eligible to vote in the last election. Presidential, congressional and local elections are scheduled in 2004.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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