Are you a Filipino?

by Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.

Those among us who have lived for many years outside the Philippines and have become citizens of the countries we are residing, carrying the passports issued by those countries, will attest that we have been asked this question: “Are you a Filipino?” Or, as one who clearly did not know how to call us, asked me: “Are you Philippinese?”

Oftentimes, the answer “Yes” is enough. But others want to be more specific, so they qualify: “But I am a/an __________ citizen”, mentioning the name of the country that issued their passports.

Of course, we might have also been asked: “Are you Malaysian? (or Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Burmese, or any other Oriental). Or someone simply talked to you in a language you neither understood nor heard before. This could be because we have some features common to other nationalities. Interracial marriages made this possible. Arguably, there is no “purer” race. Unless, maybe, our foreparents lived in isolation in the hinterlands, without intercourse with the so-called civilized world.

To any man or woman on the street, our identity is determined by how we look like. We are Filipinos because we are tan all year round, have faces not like any Caucasian or other Oriental, a peculiar accent when we speak English, and other external marks of distinction. Other people of different ethnic backgrounds see us as Filipino because of our ethnic features that are different from theirs. This is true regardless of where we were born, whether we know any of the dialects in the Philippines, whether we have ever set foot on Philippine soil, and whether we like it or not.

Being a Filipino from the point of view of other ethnic groups is a matter of ethnicity. Of appearance. It is not a matter of law. In this case, being a Filipino is not a matter of choice. It is determined by the accident of birth, with an ancestry of people who have inhabited the Philippines at some point in time, and no matter how long ago. Or who have had carnal relations with one who is ethnically Filipino.

Being a Filipino from the point of view of other ethnic groups is a matter of ethnicity. Of appearance. It is not a matter of law. In this case, being a Filipino is not a matter of choice

Yes, ethnically, we are Filipino, regardless of our citizenship. And, however we might think we are. We cannot escape that Filipino heritage. Some may deny, even abhor, it, but it does not change the fact of your ethnicity.

But being Filipino can be a strictly legal concept when we think of it in relation to citizenship. Citizenship implies membership in a country and owing allegiance to the government of that country, with all the rights resulting from such allegiance, including the right to vote and be voted into office, as well as the obligation to serve in a military or civilian capacity in defense of or in support of that country. By this concept, all those who do not have the physical features of the Filipino, as we commonly know it, but have become citizens of the Philippines by choice are considered Filipino.

Citizenship and ethnicity are two different concepts. Most of the countries where we are now residing have people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds but share a common citizenship. The United States, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia, to name a few, are examples of those countries. One country, one citizenship, multiple nations, multiple cultures.

The man on the street do not see those government-issued proofs of our being citizens of the country of our birth or our choice. Our passports, birth certificates, or national identity cards are not plastered on our faces. Any person who wants to know whether you are a citizen of any country will ask you if you are, or not. If this happens, and it becomes necessary, then you have your passports or other documents to show to which country you are a citizen of.

Of course, with the differences in principles of acquiring citizenship, principally just soli (place of birth) and jus sanguines (by blood relationship), one can have several citizenships. Marriage may also vest citizenship. Dual and multiple citizenships happen. The individual concerned will just have to choose which citizenship he or she prefers in case a need to choose one is required. One cannot enjoy the best of both or all worlds, so to speak, in case of conflict between or among the countries of which he or she is a citizen. Unless that point occurs, we are citizens of, and owe allegiance to, the countries we are citizens by reasons of the respective laws that vested us that status.

When someone asks whether you are a half-Filipino (or 1/3 or 1/4, or whatever percentage), he must be referring to your ethnicity, or your racial identity. He is really asking “How much of a Filipino blood you have?” He cannot be referring to your citizenship. Citizenship is not divisible. One cannot be half-Filipino and half citizen of another country. Thus, by law the Philippines considers you a Filipino citizen if you became a Filipino citizen via any of the ways of becoming a Filipino citizen. That is the only test of Filipino citizenship. And unless the constitution, or laws pursuant thereto provide otherwise, all Filipinos have the same rights whether they are natural-born or naturalized Filipino citizens. Or, whether they are also considered citizens of one or more other countries.

“Citizenship is not divisible. One cannot be half-Filipino and half citizen of another country.”

In those countries of multiple nations and cultures, we will always be Filipino to the Irish, Italian, Scot, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, and all others. So, the next time someone asks you “Are you a Filipino?,” he/she is referring to your ethnicity. Simply say, “Yes”. Without hesitation and reservation. You have ancestors the likes of Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Luna, among others, whose deeds you can be proud of, and whose ideals were as great and exemplary as other more well-known leaders of human civilization.

Take pride in being a Filipino, by ancestry, as you take pride in being a citizen of the country you are living happily and free.

Now, “Are you a Filipino?”

Manny Quintal

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Manuel B. Quintal, ESQ., practices law in New York since 1989. He is active in the community as a member, an officer or a legal adviser of various professional, business, and not-for-profit organizations. He was a columnist of Newstar Philippines, an English language weekly newspaper published in New York, from 2006-2009. He was Executive Editor of International Tribune, an English language weekly newspaper for the Asian community, based in New York, from 2010 to 2012.

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