Divided Loyalties

Forced to choose between native ties and the American Dream, Filipinos like S.F. court clerk Rene Pascual are fighting for dual citizenship

Settled into a chair in the back room of his San Francisco office, he fishes for a copy of the speech he delivered during the Arroyo event. To find it, he sifts through documents related to the Senate bills: yellow publicity fliers (which he hands out at community events), and newspaper articles about a public forum he helped assemble (with his picture on the front page).

In 1998 when Pascual became president of the California Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, a legal association, he made both bills the focus of his tenure. The organization has been the most vocal on these issues regionally.

And Pascual is already dreaming up his next lobbying move: buying ad space in all major Philippine newspapers to run an open letter supporting both bills.

Pascual hands Philippine President Gloria Arroyo resolutions for dual citizenship and absentee voting.
Courtesy of Rene Pascual
Pascual hands Philippine President Gloria Arroyo resolutions for dual citizenship and absentee voting.

"And not only that," Pascual says, leaning in excitedly. "I will buy one whole page and publish the letter in the Philippine News, the biggest Filipino paper in the U.S. I will encourage everyone to follow up and lobby their senators."

Pascual's motivations are not completely altruistic. By immigrating to America, he had to sacrifice a law career, which has been a dream since childhood. For many years, Pascual brooded about this conflict of necessity and ambition. With dual citizenship on the horizon, Pascual will be able to reap the benefits of being American and Filipino.

"The reason why I did not turn over my Philippine citizenship is because I wanted to go back to the Philippines and practice law," he says. "I plan now to file my naturalization papers because of dual citizenship. As a family man, I am glad I am here. I could not live the way I do now and raise a good family in the Philippines because our finances would be limited."

Pascual can't shake the calling of law, though. Of the eight brothers and sisters in the Pascual family, young Rene emerged as the most outspoken of the clan. "My father would say, "You are always arguing with everyone. You would make a good lawyer.' And it kind of got into my mind."

Law became such a consuming passion that when his immigration visa, filed by his oldest sister, was approved, Pascual asked for a deferment because he wanted to finish law school.

A year later, in 1977, Pascual passed the bar exam. He asked for another immigration deferment and took a job at the law offices of an attorney named Jose Miguel Tuason Arroyo, who would later marry a politician name Gloria Macapagal.

After a short stint at the Arroyo law offices, Pascual joined the Citizen's Legal Assistance Office, the equivalent of the Public Defender's Office. He stayed there for a little over a year, dashing to court every morning to handle arraignments for attempted homicide, bribery, theft, or sexual abuse cases.

As time passed Pascual found himself steeped more and more in lawyering. His visa had been deferred for about two years. "I was enjoying my practice," he says.

Finally, in 1979, the U.S. Embassy called Pascual to tell him his immigration visa was about to expire. "They gave me an ultimatum," Pascual says. "Their argument was: "Pascual, when you come to the Embassy, there is a long line of people begging us to give them a visa. You are begging us not to make you go. So take it or leave it.'"

Pascual quit his job in frustration. He was on a plane to New York a few weeks later.

Dual citizenship is currently against the law in the Philippines unless a child is born on foreign soil to parents who are Philippine citizens. According to the 1986 Philippine Constitution, "dual allegiance of Filipino citizens is inimical to the national interests and shall be dealt with by law."

The constitution strengthens past laws which stated that anyone who became a naturalized citizen anywhere else automatically lost his Filipino citizenship. There were no exceptions.

Dr. Jay Gonzalez, a bespectacled academic who teaches at multiple San Francisco universities, worked for one of the 100 commissioners charged with writing the 1986 constitution after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. He says the majority of the commission agreed to outlaw dual citizenship, and there was little debate on the issue.

During the drafting of the constitution, Gonzalez says, the commissioners engaged in impassioned debates on every subject imaginable (one commissioner even hurled an ashtray across the room in disgust during a discussion of land reform). An intensity and excitement lingered in the air like the thick cigarette smoke that clouded the room.

But on the day the commission tackled dual citizenship, the tension in the room dissipated. The debates grew less rancorous, and there was a general agreement that dual citizenship was not acceptable.

"In that environment, people are drawn to protect Philippine sovereignty," Gonzalez recalls. "We wanted to show patriotism, so we enacted a provision that says dual allegiance is "inimical' to national interest. It was very strong wording. We had just overthrown a dictator."

But times have changed, Gonzalez says. Even with the constitution's strong stance against dual citizenship, upholding the law is no longer politically useful. The export of primarily female workers to service-sector jobs in Asia, and the exodus of the Philippines' brightest to countries like the United States, have made dual citizenship a necessity.

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