Batuhan: The white swans of government

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By Allan S. B. Batuhan

Foreign Exchange

Sunday, June 8, 2014

THERE was a bad joke I remember that people used to tell, back in the days when I was growing up. Whenever one had a son who was neither too bright nor too attractive—so people used to say—they should send him to become a priest. I never really liked that quip much, for its sacrilegious undertones. But now, the religious can rest easy, because officially I don’t think this snide joke holds much water anymore. Apparently, no families had ever taken the advice seriously. They sent their less mentally-capable children to civil service instead.

Yes, that’s right. I can confirm that those with the lowest IQ’s, the most infantile brains, and the most asinine of people are in public service. Of that, there can be little doubt. I am not discounting, however, the fact that there could yet be brighter and more enlightened minds put to work in the service of the people of this great country. It is just that I have not seen them yet.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the internationally-acclaimed best-selling book “The Black Swan” puts it, just because all the swans we have seen so far are white, “does not preclude the possibility that black swans could exist.” And exist they did, when their species were first discovered in Australia. And so, I still hold out the hope, like Taleb, that someday soon, the first black swan in the Philippine Government service will be found.


I say this, of course, half tongue-in-cheek because both my parents, at some point in their lives, dedicated themselves to the service of the people of this country. And, dare I say, they did it with impeccable dedication, taking pride in the fact that they were serving their countrymen. But just like black swans, sightings of their kind tend to be very few and far between.

Recently, my son had the most unfortunate experience of encountering the white swans in government, when he was required to renew his expiring Philippine passport. Being of dual British and Filipino citizenship, he duly declared the fact on his passport renewal application form. Which is when the white swans descended in their droves.

Jacob was 14 years old when Cynthia and I took our oaths of allegiance as Filipino citizens, thereby affirming our reacquisition of Filipino citizenship, which we lost for a couple of years when we became citizens of the United Kingdom. Not wishing to sever our ties to the Philippines, we took advantage of the Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003, to become citizens of both. Even to non-lawyers among us, the Act is unequivocal in declaring that Jacob was included in the reacquisition of his citizenship, by virtue of ours.

“If his/her children are unmarried and below 18 years of age upon re-acquisition of Filipino citizenship, his/her children are recognized as Filipino citizens under Philippine laws and are entitled to the rights and privileges attendant thereto.”

(A Primer on the Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003, prepared by The Commission on Filipinos Overseas/Philippine Consulate General, Los Angeles, CA).

But what did the white swans in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of Immigration have to say about this? They said Jacob needs to have his citizenship “recognized” because he was a minor when we took our oath, and now he is of legal age.

And by the way, he needs to pay P12,000 also, for undergoing this useless ritual that they invented. And where did this advice come from? From the Bureau of Immigration’s lawyers, no less. Lawyers? These people could not understand instructions on how to cross the street, never mind advise people on matters of citizenship. The Act does not prescribe any “recognition” for Jacob. He is already a citizen, by virtue of his parents’ re-acquisition of citizenship.

But white swans—lawyers or not—will be white swans. Which is why, years after my parents and their kind retired from public service, I have yet to report the sighting of other black swans in government service.

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 09, 2014.


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