STATELESSNESS is a tragic circumstance. The direct result of being stateless is poverty since it would be difficult to obtain a decent job if one were stateless. State to state travel would be nearly impossible since a stateless person does not have a passport that would allow him to travel to other states.

Who is a stateless person? He is a person who is not considered a national of any state.

How does one become stateless? A person can lose his nationality when he is divested of his citizenship, as when the Nazis passed the infamous Nuremberg laws in 1935, which divested Jews of their German citizenship even though they fought for Germany during the First World War, or were born as Germans before 1935. Another way is when a person renounces his citizenship, or when a person is born in a country which only recognizes jus sanguinis and his parents are nationals of a country which only recognizes jus soli.

Jus soli means law of the soil, that is to say, citizenship is conferred to a child born in the territory where he claims citizenship. Jus sanguinis is the law of the blood, which means that the citizenship of the child follows the citizenship of the parents.

There are stateless persons everywhere. The most famous stateless person in Philippine judicial history was Boris Mejoff. The case of Mejoff is an old one; it was decided by the Supreme Court in 1949. The case outlines the plight of the stateless. Mejoff fought against the Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks were called Red Russians so that made Mejoff, in the political vocabulary of that time, a White Russian. After the victory of the Bolsheviks, Mejoff escaped to Shanghai. After the Russian revolution, Shanghai became a place of refuge; there are old photographs showing Shanghai's streets with signboards written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

Having Caucasian features, Mejoff could easily be mistaken for an American. He was brought to the Philippines by the Japanese forces during the Japanese occupation so he could act as a spy. When liberation came, he was arrested by the US Army Counter-Intelligence Corps. Although the People's Court ordered his release, a case for deportation was filed against him and the Bureau of Immigration ordered his incarceration while awaiting deportation to Russia. Russian vessels refused to take him on board their vessels. Mejoff languished in prison for years until the Supreme Court ordered his release and instructed the Bureau of Immigration to place him under surveillance until such time that the state would be ready to deport him. Unfortunately for Mejoff, the adoption by the United Nations of the convention for the stateless was still years away; thus, he was not able to avail of its privileges.

A relatively more recent case involves the descendants of Indonesians living in Kidapawan, Cotabato. In 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website said that there were thousands of persons of Indonesian descent living in Mindanao who had been stripped of their citizenship. According to the 1958 Citizenship Law of Indonesia, Indonesians who have lived abroad for more than five years without registering with the Indonesian authorities would lose their citizenship.

Fortunately for the former Indonesians, the Philippines is now a signatory to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The convention obligates the Philippines to issue identity papers to any stateless person who does not possess a valid travel document. He shall also have free access to the courts of law; stateless persons shall also get free elementary education. The Philippines is also obligated to facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of the stateless.

It shall not expel a stateless person lawfully in its territory except on grounds of national security or public order. A stateless person may choose his place of residence and move freely within the country, and he shall have the right to employment. He shall also be free to practice his religion. In return, the stateless person must obey the laws of the Philippine state, abide by its regulations and measures designed to maintain public order.

President Manuel L. Quezon, during his term of office, gave 10,000 visas to European Jews who were stripped of their nationality and everything else by the Nazis. More or less 1,300 Jews from Poland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and a host of other European countries took advantage of his offer. Israel has never forgotten Quezon's magnanimity and Filipinos can still travel to Israel without a visa.

It is therefore a matter of pride that the Philippines has been a state of refuge for the stateless, even before it signed an international agreement to guarantee their protection, when it harbored Jews before the Second World War to save them from the coming tragedy of the Holocaust.