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Case Digest: Cabiling v. Commissioner, G.R. No. 183133, 26 July 2010

Cabiling v. Commissioner, G.R. No. 183133, 26 July 2010

TOPIC: Elements of the State: Citizens: Citizenship: Modes of Acquisition


Balgamelo Cabiling Ma (Balgamelo), Felix Cabiling Ma, Jr. (Felix, Jr.), Valeriano Cabiling Ma (Valeriano), Lechi Ann Ma (Lechi Ann), Arceli Ma (Arceli), Nicolas Ma (Nicolas), and Isidro Ma (Isidro) are the children of Felix (Yao Kong) Ma,1 a Taiwanese, and Dolores Sillona Cabiling, a Filipina.

Records reveal that petitioners Felix, Jr., Balgamelo and Valeriano were all born under aegis of the 1935 Philippine Constitution in the years 1948, 1951, and 1957, respectively.

They were all raised in the Philippines and have resided in this country for almost sixty (60) years; they spent their whole lives, studied and received their primary and secondary education in the country; they do not speak nor understand the Chinese language, have not set foot in Taiwan, and do not know any relative of their father; they have not even traveled abroad; and they have already raised their respective families in the Philippines.

During their age of minority, they secured from the Bureau of Immigration their Alien Certificates of Registration (ACRs).

Immediately upon reaching the age of twenty-one, they claimed Philippine citizenship in accordance with Section 1(4), Article IV, of the 1935 Constitution, which provides that “(t)hose whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship” are citizens of the Philippines. Thus, on 15 August 1969, Felix, Jr. executed his affidavit of election of Philippine citizenship and took his oath of allegiance before then Judge Jose L. Gonzalez, Municipal Judge, Surigao, Surigao del Norte.6 On 14 January 1972, Balgamelo did the same before Atty. Patrocinio C. Filoteo, Notary Public, Surigao City, Surigao del Norte.7 In 1978, Valeriano took his oath of allegiance before then Judge Salvador C. Sering, City Court of Surigao City, the fact of which the latter attested to in his Affidavit of 7 March 2005.

Having taken their oath of allegiance as Philippine citizens, petitioners, however, failed to have the necessary documents registered in the civil registry as required under Section 1 of Commonwealth Act No. 625 (An Act Providing the Manner in which the Option to Elect Philippine Citizenship shall be Declared by a Person whose Mother is a Filipino Citizen). It was only on 27 July 2005 or more than thirty (30) years after they elected Philippine citizenship that Balgamelo and Felix, Jr. did so.9 On the other hand, there is no showing that Valeriano complied with the registration requirement.

Individual certifications all dated 3 January 2005 issued by the Office of the City Election Officer, Commission on Elections, Surigao City, show that all of them are registered voters of Barangay Washington, Precinct No. 0015A since June 1997, and that records on previous registrations are no longer available because of the mandatory general registration every ten (10) years. Moreover, aside from exercising their right of suffrage, Balgamelo is one of the incumbent Barangay Kagawads in Barangay Washington, Surigao City.

Records further reveal that Lechi Ann and Arceli were born also in Surigao City in 195312 and 1959, respectively. The Office of the City Civil Registrar issued a Certification to the effect that the documents showing that Arceli elected Philippine citizenship on 27 January 1986 were registered in its Office on 4 February 1986. However, no other supporting documents appear to show that Lechi Ann initially obtained an ACR nor that she subsequently elected Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. Likewise, no document exists that will provide information on the citizenship of Nicolas and Isidro.


WON Balgamelo Cabiling Ma is a citizen of the Philippines


The 1935 Constitution declares as citizens of the Philippines those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. The mandate states:

Section 1. The following are citizens of the Philippines:

(1) xxx;

x x x x

(4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship.

In 1941, Commonwealth Act No. 625 was enacted. It laid down the manner of electing Philippine citizenship, to wit:

Section 1. The option to elect Philippine citizenship in accordance with subsection (4), Section 1, Article IV, of the Constitution shall be expressed in a statement to be signed and sworn to by the party concerned before any officer authorized to administer oaths, and shall be filed with the nearest civil registry. The said party shall accompany the aforesaid statement with the oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the Government of the Philippines.

The statutory formalities of electing Philippine citizenship are: (1) a statement of election under oath; (2) an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and Government of the Philippines; and (3) registration of the statement of election and of the oath with the nearest civil registry.

In Re:Application for Admission to the Philippine Bar, Vicente D. Ching,38 we determined the meaning of the period of election described by phrase “upon reaching the age of majority.” Our references were the Civil Code of the Philippines, the opinions of the Secretary of Justice, and the case of Cueco v. Secretary of Justice.39 We pronounced:

x x x [T]he 1935 Constitution and C.A. No. 625 did not prescribe a time period within which the election of Philippine citizenship should be made. The 1935 Charter only provides that the election should be made “upon reaching the age of majority.” The age of majority then commenced upon reaching twenty-one (21) years.40 In the opinions of the Secretary of Justice on cases involving the validity of election of Philippine citizenship, this dilemma was resolved by basing the time period on the decisions of this Court prior to the effectivity of the 1935 Constitution. In these decisions, the proper period for electing Philippine citizenship was, in turn, based on the pronouncements of the Department of State of the United States Government to the effect that the election should be made within a reasonable time after attaining the age of majority.41 The phrase “reasonable time” has been interpreted to mean that the elections should be made within three (3) years from reaching the age of majority.42 However, we held in Cue[n]co vs. Secretary of Justice,43 that the three (3) year period is not an inflexible rule. We said:

It is true that this clause has been construed to mean a reasonable time after reaching the age of majority, and that the Secretary of Justice has ruled that three (3) years is the reasonable time to elect Philippine citizenship under the constitutional provision adverted to above, which period may be extended under certain circumstances, as when the person concerned has always considered himself a Filipino.

The instant case presents a different factual setting. Petitioners complied with the first and second requirements upon reaching the age of majority. It was only the registration of the documents of election with the civil registry that was belatedly done.

We rule that under the facts peculiar to the petitioners, the right to elect Philippine citizenship has not been lost and they should be allowed to complete the statutory requirements for such election.

We are not prepared to state that the mere exercise of suffrage, being elected public official, continuous and uninterrupted stay in the Philippines, and other similar acts showing exercise of Philippine citizenship can take the place of election of citizenship. What we now say is that where, as in petitioners’ case, the election of citizenship has in fact been done and documented within the constitutional and statutory timeframe, the registration of the documents of election beyond the frame should be allowed if in the meanwhile positive acts of citizenship have publicly, consistently, and continuously been done. The actual exercise of Philippine citizenship, for over half a century by the herein petitioners, is actual notice to the Philippine public which is equivalent to formal registration of the election of Philippine citizenship.

Registration does not confer ownership. It is not a mode of acquiring dominion, but only a means of confirming the fact of its existence with notice to the world at large.

Registration, then, is the confirmation of the existence of a fact. In the instant case, registration is the confirmation of election as such election. It is not the registration of the act of election, although a valid requirement under Commonwealth Act No. 625, that will confer Philippine citizenship on the petitioners. It is only a means of confirming the fact that citizenship has been claimed.

Indeed, we even allow the late registration of the fact of birth and of marriage.69 Thus, has it been admitted through existing rules that the late registration of the fact of birth of a child does not erase the fact of birth. Also, the fact of marriage cannot be declared void solely because of the failure to have the marriage certificate registered with the designated government agency.

Notably, the petitioners timely took their oath of allegiance to the Philippines. This was a serious undertaking. It was commitment and fidelity to the state coupled with a pledge “to renounce absolutely and forever all allegiance” to any other state. This was unqualified acceptance of their identity as a Filipino and the complete disavowal of any other nationality.

Petitioners have passed decades of their lives in the Philippines as Filipinos. Their present status having been formed by their past, petitioners can no longer have any national identity except that which they chose upon reaching the age of reason.

The leanings towards recognition of the citizenship of children of Filipino mothers have been indicated not alone by the jurisprudence that liberalized the requirement on time of election, and recognized positive acts of Philippine citizenship.

The favor that is given to such children is likewise evident in the evolution of the constitutional provision on Philippine citizenship.

Thus, while the 1935 Constitution requires that children of Filipino mothers elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching their age of majority,71 upon the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution, they automatically become Filipinos72 and need not elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. The 1973 provision reads:

Section 1. The following are citizens of the Philippines:


(1) xxx.

(2) Those whose fathers and mothers are citizens of the Philippines.73

Better than the relaxation of the requirement, the 1987 Constitution now classifies them as natural-born citizens upon election of Philippine citizenship. Thus, Sec. 2, Article IV thereof provides:

Section 2. Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship. Those who elect Philippine citizenship in accordance with paragraph (3), Section 1 hereof74 shall be deemed natural-born citizens. (Emphasis supplied.)

We are guided by this evolvement from election of Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority under the 1935 Philippine Constitution to dispensing with the election requirement under the 1973 Philippine Constitution to express classification of these children as natural-born citizens under the 1987 Constitution towards the conclusion that the omission of the 1941 statutory requirement of registration of the documents of election should not result in the obliteration of the right to Philippine citizenship.1avvphi1

Having a Filipino mother is permanent. It is the basis of the right of the petitioners to elect Philippine citizenship. Petitioners elected Philippine citizenship in form and substance. The failure to register the election in the civil registry should not defeat the election and resultingly negate the permanent fact that they have a Filipino mother. The lacking requirements may still be complied with subject to the imposition of appropriate administrative penalties, if any. The documents they submitted supporting their allegations that they have already registered with the civil registry, although belatedly, should be examined for validation purposes by the appropriate agency, in this case, the Bureau of Immigration. Other requirements embodied in the administrative orders and other issuances of the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Justice shall be complied with within a reasonable time.



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