On my way home Sunday from Rome, where I attended Humanum, the international interreligious colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman which Pope Francis opened last week, the monotonous stillness of the flight from Dubai to Manila was suddenly broken by the uninhibited bawling of a Filipina passenger on the window seat immediately behind us.
It caught everyone’s attention in our section of the plane, including those who were asleep or had their head phones on, glued to the movies. The woman cupped her face in her hands as she wept and babbled in her dialect even though she had no one to talk to at all. A foreign passenger on the aisle seat same row stared at her across the empty middle seat, speechless and lost. My wife, who was directly in front of her, turned to her from the space above her seat to ask her what was wrong.
She replied that her mother, who apparently had been ill, had died just a few minutes ago in Moncada, Tarlac. She was flying home from her place of work in Spain in order to be at her mother’s bedside before she breathed her last. But the angel of death came like a thief in the night, and she got the cruel news as soon as it happened, on Facebook. That’s the wonder and cruelty of modern communication. She was disconsolate, and she did not mind letting the entire world know it.
My wife tried to console her, and promised to pray for the dear departed. She asked her to keep strong and to bear her loss with faith and courage. The foreigner next to her finally broke the ice and began to converse, and a flight attendant came over to ask if she needed anything to eat or drink. She needed nothing, but she was thankful for the offer, and after a while she calmed down. She sat in prayerful silence the rest of the flight.
This incident confirmed with far greater eloquence than any of the brilliant insights I had heard from the world religious leaders and scholars at the Vatican the most important truth about a woman’s irreplaceable and unrepeatable role, which defines her complementarity with a man, that of motherhood. Indeed, only a woman can become a mother by giving birth to a child, something which no son or daughter could ever forget. And this was the witness I saw from this woman who did not mind proclaiming to the whole world her grief upon her mother’s death.
In today’s world, there is a determined effort on the part of the lesbian-gay-bisexual, transgender (LGBT) agenda to abolish motherhood, by replacing the woman with a man in order to produce two males in a same-sex union, which they would like to call a “marriage,” and by pairing off one woman with another woman in another same-sex union, which they also would like to call a “marriage.” But however far they might succeed in caricaturing “marriage,” they can never imitate “motherhood.” Even though not every adult woman in marriage becomes a mother, or chooses to become a “mother,” it is the gift and grace of motherhood, or the natural biological and anthropological ability of a woman to become a mother—after everything else is discounted—that ultimately distinguishes her from the other sex.
Motherhood, no matter how the radical gender feminists try to downgrade it, shows the ultimate difference between and the innate complementarity of the two sexes. This was one of the cardinal truths that shone out from the witness of the various religions in the three-day conference.
But among the 130,000 or so Filipinos in Rome, removed from the erudite discussions on male and female complementarity inside the Vatican, the rights of “motherhood” have given rise to a diplomatic issue that demands urgent attention and action from both the Italian and Philippine governments. The issue has to do with the right of Filipino nationals to use their maternal surname in writing their full name in official Italian documents.
Philippine law does not require Filipinos to use or to omit their mother’s surname. But it is a matter of custom, and almost every official form that we fill out includes a space for the maternal surname or middle name. Every Philippine passport holder is identified by a full name that includes the maternal surname; even the pre-departure and arrival immigration forms filled out by every Filipino traveler contain a space for it.
No Filipino has to prove that he or she was born of a mother, but the use of a maternal surname serves at least one, although it serves far more than one, useful purpose. If there were two Francisco Tatads trying to transact business with you, the middle initial “S”, other things being equal, should help identify which one is the writer of this column, and which one is the someone else. The other fellow need not suffer any injury for the atrocious errors I commit in my columns; nor should I risk being arrested if my namesake turns out to be a felon.
But Italians do not normally use their middle names. This does not compel the Italian government, nor does it give them any authority, to require other nationalities to drop their middle names in their official documents: the Spaniards normally have at least three names; the Egyptians and the Arabs have more, and in Italy they write their own names, according to their custom. The Filipinos in Italy used to do the same–until sometime in 2010.
But on July 10, 2010, the Italian ministry of foreign affairs asked the Philippine embassy in Rome how Filipino names were to appear in Italian official documents. On August 27, 2010, the embassy replied in a note verbale that Filipinos were to be registered by their first and last names only, without any middle name. This was about the time President B. S. Aquino 3rd let it be known, according to reports, that his official name will not carry “Cojuangco” or the initial “C” as a middle name.
On October 2, 2010, the Italian Ministry of Interior, acting on the embassy’s advice, issued Circular No. 29, directing the proper registry of Filipino names in Italy should include the first and last names only, without the middle name. This circular took effect on October 7, 2010.
This was met with instant protest from the Filipino community, which complained that they were never consulted nor informed beforehand about the proposed change. The change entailed renewing all work and other related documents issued by the Italian government, each one of which required a prior certificate from the embassy attesting to the correct identity of the Filipino applicant. Each of these certificates costs 25 Euro, according to one affected Filipino male. Assuming just one certificate for every Filipino expat–although some would require more than one certificate for various purposes– this means an additional income of at least 3,250,000 Euro for the embassy, the man said.
Many Filipinos have banded together under “Alleanza Filippina in Italia” and demanded that the embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila admit to the Italian foreign ministry that the embassy’s 2010 note verbale was all a mistake, and ask that Circular No. 29 be revoked. At least 2,800 of them have signed this demand. They have even asked President B. S. Aquino 3rd to intervene, except that they could not say if he ever received or read their letter of November 5, 2012.
The demand appears to be not without merit. But the embassy cannot act on it now because it had recommended the original policy. Nor can the Italian government act on it now, without imposing its will on the Philippine government. The only solution, it seems to me, would be to negotiate the issue at the highest level, or at least at the level of foreign ministers. But is Aquino inclined to give it the importance it deserves, or will he simply tell the Filipino expats to give up the use of their maternal surnames just as he has given up his? Or will he find the courage to tell them to simply wait for a more competent and caring government?