Migrants records: Tree of lies

4

IF a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

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If a baby is born and no one – other than the mother is around – does the baby exist?

In 2009, the Philippine Statistics Authority (popularly known as the NSO) reported that “there were 1,745,585 live births registered in 2009” – which translates roughly to three Filipinos born per minute. Of this number, four were illegitimate, with Luzon recording 64.6 percent of the total number of babies born out of wedlock.

There were 476,408 marriages registered in 2011, showing a decline of 1.3 percent from the previous year’s figure of 482,480. While the number of registered marriages in the country has been declining, the rate of babies born per minute remains the same.

And these numbers represent only the babies born crying (since babies need to make a sound as proof of life) and recorded marriages. Do babies born without a witness – other than the mother – count? If such records count, are they true because they exist?

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA, which replaced the NSO) is tasked and funded by taxpayer’s money to record the births, marriages and deaths of Filipinos.

How many of the recorded data on births, marriages and deaths are true?

Remember, the duty of an NSO or PSA staff or employee is simply to record what the informant claims. The PSA employee does not have the authority to determine the truth or falsity of the information being provided. In this sense, the record is accepted as a “word of honor.”

If Trudy marries Toto in Manila and reported that marriage to the local civil registrar, that marriage becomes part of PSA statistics.

But Toto is an Overseas Filipino Worker, who, after the marriage, had to leave for Saudi Arabia to earn an income enough to feed his family. Toto and Trudy got married after having two children from the relationship.

Toto returned to the Philippines after a year, then left again and went back to KSA. Trudy saw him off at the NAIA Terminal 1. That was the last she heard of her husband. Toto vanished in the Middle East. Trudy never heard from him again, neither did she get any remittances from him to support their three children. The last time Toto came home and slept with Trudy, she got pregnant with their third child. Toto left before the baby was born.

After ten years of waiting and an unsuccessful search for Toto among his family and friends, Trudy gave up. Then she met Bayani – a balikbayan who lived in the same town where she was. Trudy was truthful. Bayani was understanding and loved Trudy and her kids. Bayani did not have children of his own.

A week before she and Bayani were about to marry, Toto suddenly appeared at Trudy’s doorstep asking for forgiveness. He did not want to resume their relationship. Instead, Toto confessed that he had emigrated to California as a skilled worker and had since formed his own family there.

Toto even gave Trudy and Bayani his blessing when he learned of their marriage plans. Toto signed an affidavit confirming his consent to the marriage. The document was notarized. Bayani and Trudy got married. The record of that marriage was submitted to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

That tree fell with a sound. There were witnesses and documents to prove the tree fell.

There also exists a PSA record of the marriage of Toto and Trudy. That record, however, despite its existence is not legal. It may be true in the sense that it exists, but it is not valid under Philippine laws.

Toto and Trudy are married under Philippine laws. Although Toto filed for divorce and obtained it before marrying another woman in California, he still remained married technically to Trudy in the Philippines.

After their marriage, Bayani filed a petition for Trudy to be with him. Since Bayani remains a green card holder (lawful permanent resident), Trudy had to wait for her immigrant visa to become available. While waiting for her immigrant visa interview, Toto passed away. His death was recorded with the PSA.

Advised to be truthful in his petition, Bayani submitted the notarized affidavit of Toto – even signed by witnesses, (the parents of both Toto and Trudy) consenting to his legal wife (Trudy) to marry Bayani.

Because Bayani submitted evidence of eligibility to file a petition as a lawful permanent resident and he submitted a copy of his PSA-recorded marriage to Trudy, Bayani’s petition was approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Just like the PSA, the USCIS decides on the merits of a petition based on documents submitted.

The petition was forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) and after paying the visa fees and completing the documents, Trudy was set for her visa interview at the US Embassy in Manila.

During the interview, the Consul noted that the birth certificates of Trudy’s children show that their biological parents (Toto and Trudy) were married. The consul asked Trudy to submit documents that her previous marriage to Toto was legally terminated.

Alarmed by the turn of events and relying on the advice of friends, neighbors and own-experience-experts, Trudy and Bayani submitted the PSA-recorded notarized affidavit of Toto consenting to the marriage. As added security, Trudy included the death certificate of Toto believing that the death of Toto totally renders her eligible for the immigrant visa.

The consul did not issue a visa to Trudy and her minor children. Instead, Trudy was given a letter advising her that the case had been put under administrative review.

After what amounted to be forever (which was about a year) Trudy received a consular letter advising her that her visa application had been denied because his marriage to the petitioner (Bayani) is not valid. While Toto consented to Trudy marrying Bayani, such recorded and notarized consent did not legally terminate the marriage.

The petition was returned to the USCIS, which subsequently confirmed the refusal and – as a procedural matter – instructed Bayani (the petitioner) to appeal the refusal within 60 days.

The USCIS had denied the petition because Trudy had an existing valid marriage (to Toto) when she married Bayani. Consent of the legal husband does not render the subsequent marriage valid. Even the subsequent death of Toto did not extinguish the validity of the first marriage of Trudy to Toto.

Despite all the sound and fury – of the tree falling in the PSA forest – that fall – the marriage record of Trudy to Bayani – does not count, even if it exists.

How many more marriage and birth records are there in the PSA forest that are part of the country’s statistics but legally do not count?

In a phrase often attributed to Mark Twain, it is fair to assume that a substantial amount of PSA records, despite their existence, are “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

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4 Comments

  1. ferdinand naboye on

    It is time for ppeople at the NSO to wake up and simplify the recording system to suit the changing times. make processing as simple as posssible.

  2. A good piece of research and reporting by Mr Aranda.

    The NSO/PSA apart from being unbelievably slow make hundreds of mistakes each year resulting in a persons records having to be corrected/verified by many means and always at the expense of the person concerned.

    A child born to an unmarried mother will have its civil status on the Certificate of Birth declared as illegitimate! And the child will carry that stigma for life unless changed through legal interventions.

    What a shameful situation! Is there nothing in the Philippines system of daily life of the people that is not either corrupted or incompetently managed?

    I struggle to think of something!

  3. One other thing i would like to add, you were all against poe running for president remember because of the laws here on who is a filipino etc etc, so it seems sometimes you want your cake & eat it & others you say you cant eat the cake.

  4. Wow i dont know what to say, it was all so complicated & it was all caused by one person. I wish people would be more honest then these problems wouldnt arise. We all want laws but sometimes they work against us as it seems to have done in this case. Good luck to them, i wish them well.