Although the United States believes the Philippines is “closer than ever” to joining The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, it is further urging the government to see through hurdles that will ensure protection of rights and well-being of abducted children.
Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the US Department of State’s special advisor for children’s issues, said she is hopeful that the Philippines will be able to accede to the convention during President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration.
The first two steps of joining the convention—concurrence from concerned agencies and ratification by the President—should not take long while she also found no opposition from the Senate on the concurrence with the convention.
“I think the Senate will also approve it very quickly,” Jacobs said, disclosing that US officials are in regular meetings with Philippine officials on the matter of joining the convention, a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law that provides an “expeditious method” to return a child internationally abducted to a parent from one member country to another.
Its aim is to return an abducted child to his habitual country of residence.
The convention also prevents a parent from crossing borders in the hopes of finding a more sympathetic court.
Jacobs said the US has always been committed to the protection “of our most valuable resources—our children.”
“Every abduction is difficult and painful for those involved. The Hague convention is one of the most important tools to resolve [cases of]internationally abducted children,” she added.
While many governments are limited in what they can do and what they are willing to do for children abducted by their parent and taken to another country, the convention helps define what countries owe other members.
Jacobs said the convention is not a tool for custody “but a convention about procedures.”
“It provides uniform civil law for parents to seek the return of children to their habitual place of residence.”
The United States entered the convention into force in 1988, and is now partner with over 70 countries.
In the last four years, Singapore, Morocco, Trinidad and Tobago and South Korea joined the convention. Japan became a treaty partner in February 2014.
There are 19 cases of child abduction from the US to the Philippines while there are 15 child abduction cases from the Philippines to the US.
“You [the Philippines]are all ready to join. You have everything set up,” said Jacobs, who was appointed by former State Secretary Hillary Clinton to get more countries to join the convention and ensure they implement it properly.
“The Philippines is a leader in the region [Southeast Asia]. We think you can also be a leader regarding parental international abduction. You are closer than ever to joining the convention and we hope the remaining hurdles will be put to [rest],” she added.
“Now is the time for action. Please join the convention, and then we can work together to ensure the prompt return of abducted children.”
Milestones for the Philippines
Jesus Domingo, Foreign Affairs assistant secretary for the Office of the United Nations and other International Organizations, explained the three-part process needed to ratify the convention.
First, there should be certificates of concurrence (COCs) from concerned agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), which agreed to be the central authority for this, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), the Office of the Solicitor General and the Inter-Country Adoption Board.
Since 2011, the Philippines has studied possible accession to the convention, and position papers have been submitted by concerned agencies.
There were also public forums held by the CWC in 2014, and another dialogue with stakeholders will be set in the coming months “to address concerns and smoothen the issues.”
Domingo said the COCs have been submitted, and agencies also presented their summary of benefits and highlights.
The Office of Legal Affairs, on the other hand, is working on presidential ratification by anticipating questions that will be raised by the President and the Senate.
Jacobs said issues in the passing of the convention here can be solved if the country is willing to make certain concessions.
Michael Ang, honorary consul of Jordan in the Philippines, shared an actual case that involved a Jordanian father and a Filipino mother.
In February 2013, he received a call from the airport that a Jordanian is trying to bring his three minor children with him to Jordan.
The children were taken back to Cagayan de Oro City while the Jordanian was placed in jail for “kidnapping” his children.
Further investigation revealed that the Jordanian filed a kidnapping case against the Filipino mother in May 2012 for taking the children away from him and for refusing him entry into his parents-in-law’s house.
In July 2012, the regional court in Cagayan de Oro granted custody to the mother. The Jordanian took the case before the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro, but lost again in October 2012.
But since both the Jordanian father and Filipino mother are Muslims, he took the case before the Shariah Court in Marawi City.
In this court, the Jordanian won and was given custody of the children because the Filipina was then absent as she was transiting between the US and the Philippines.
A writ of execution from the Shariah Court was given, granting the custody of the children to the Jordanian, but this was denied when he tried to fly with his children to Jordan in February 2013.
The Filipina, on the other hand, eventually became a naturalized US citizen. She was able to take the children to the US with her while the father went back to Jordan, and has been seeking legal alternatives to gain custody of his children, Ang said.
Jacobs said the Jordanian cannot use the convention for the return of his children because both Jordan and the Philippines are not party to the convention.
“Without the convention, there are very few options for parents to resolve these cases,” Jacobs said.
Although the US does encourage people to report abduction cases, and they provide a list of lawyers and information about the case, they cannot give location assistance.
But once the convention is put into place, the envoy said, they can easily provide location assistance, pro bono or reduced lawyer’s fees, as well as monitor the court case and ensure the safe return of the child.
Dean Ernesto Maceda Jr. of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) highlighted the need for the convention in a time when the number of Filipino children of mixed heritage is steadily increasing.
He said in the early 2000s, mixed Philippines and Japanese children are the highest but children of Middle Eastern fathers and Filipina mothers are fast “catching up.”
And although she cannot speak for what happened with the Jordanian’s case, Jacobs said Morocco, a Shariah law country, was able to sign and implement the convention.
She explained that “commitment to international treaties supersedes domestic law,” and that “it can work if a country is willing to make that concession.”
Ang said that the case he presented belongs to “possible areas for alignment to apply Shariah laws in terms of how it can fit The Hague convention, so there can be benefit for the child.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the child,” he added.