Japanese-Filipino kids await fate

Top court to rule on nationality law tied to paternal recognition

by Mariko Yasumoto

Kyodo News

The dream of Masami, 10, is to one day become a police officer to protect the people. But a major obstacle lies in her way — she doesn’t hold Japanese citizenship, one of the requirements for the job.

Masami Tapiru’s father is Japanese and her mother is Filipino. She has spent all her life in Japan, speaks only Japanese and knows little Tagalog.

But she is not Japanese — simply because her parents are unmarried and because her father only recognized her as his child after birth.

Bizarrely, her 6-year-old sister, Naomi Sato, has Japanese nationality because their father recognized her as his while she was in her mother’s womb. Despite being an illegitimate child, she acquired her father’s family name. “I want my sister to be the same,” Naomi said.

Their mother, Rossana Tapiru, 43, could not accept the situation, and in April 2005 filed a lawsuit against the government along with eight other Filipino mothers, claiming the Nationality Law, which took effect in 1950, violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equality.

Judgment day will finally come Wednesday, when the grand bench of the Supreme Court is to rule on the case, along with a similar one filed by another Japanese-Filipino child.

“I want to help her dream come true,” Tapiru said. “We should confront the fact that we are in a new era and society is becoming multicultural.”

By law, bloodline determines nationality under certain situations. A child born to a foreign woman and Japanese man is granted Japanese nationality only if the parents are legally married.

A child born outside of wedlock cannot get Japanese nationality unless the father admits paternity while the child is in the womb. Recognizing the child after birth is too late.

“I feel like I am Japanese just like other friends, but I’m not, am I, mom?” Masami said.

“One major problem these kids are facing is an identity crisis,” said Rieko Ito, general secretary of the Citizens’ Network for Japanese-Filipino Children.

Such children can receive education and welfare benefits as long as they have residential status, but as adults they won’t have the right to vote.

“Without suffrage, we are afraid they will feel alienated and face discrimination in job hunting activities,” Ito said.

The Tokyo-based nonprofit organization was formed in 1994 to respond to surging inquiries from Filipino women who were searching for their children’s fathers or seeking paternal recognition and child support.

The increase in such children reflects the social and economic situations that have prevailed in both countries since the 1980s.

According to Masaaki Satake, a professor specializing in the Philippine economy and culture at Nagoya Gakuin University, Japanese bar owners and brokers began bringing Filipino women to Japan in the mid-1980s to meet demand for hostesses, which was soaring along with Japan’s rapid economic growth.

Many were trained dancers and singers who arrived on entertainment visas in the hope of earning money to send back to their less fortunate families in the Philippines.

In most cases, however, what awaited them was a job in Japan’s seedy nighttime entertainment business.

“I was forced to sit next to Japanese businessmen at a nightclub and serve them drinks,” Tapiru said. “It was not what I had expected, but I couldn’t go back to the Philippines, as few jobs there could provide enough pay for us to live a decent life.”

Satake explained that growth in the Philippine economy has been hovering at around 5 percent to 6 percent in recent years and is largely dependent on money repatriated by workers overseas.

“The Philippine government had sent them under the name of ‘overseas performing artists’ to earn foreign currencies, turning a blind eye to the fact that the women were forced to engage in the nighttime entertainment business,” he said.

A number of the women who remained in Japan had babies out of wedlock with Japanese men. Some men already had Japanese wives and children, while others were just unwilling to commit themselves, according to Ito.

Among the 848 cases the JFC network has dealt with, nearly 60 percent involve unmarried parents. And of those who did manage to tie the knot had marriages that were nearly always on the rocks, she said.

None of the nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit obtained parental recognition from the fathers but did so through court proceedings instead, and none are now in contact with these men, Ito said.

Tapiru refused to talk about the father of her children, but she did say she can’t marry or live with him for many reasons. “I don’t want to hurt my kids and will not talk about him,” she said.

She decided to fight for her daughter and joined the mass suit led by JFC. Masami was 7 at the time.

In Masami’s case, in March 2006 the Tokyo District Court ruled unconstitutional a Nationality Law article requiring parents to be married for nationality to be granted to their child, but the decision was overruled by the Tokyo High Court in February 2007.

Legal experts say, however, there is reason to hope the Supreme Court will grant the mothers’ demands because the case was transferred from a petty bench and that the grand bench held hearings.

“It is highly likely that their demands will be accepted, although we cannot be too optimistic,” said Shuhei Ninomiya, a law professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. “If it decides the article is unconstitutional, the government should immediately move to amend the article from the point of view that children should be treated equally.”

In 2005, the government restricted the issuance of entertainment visas in an effort to prevent Filipino women from falling victim to human-trafficking or being forced to work in the sex industry.

The number of Filipino women on entertainment visas subsequently plummeted to 8,606 in 2006, about one-tenth of the peak number of 82,741 two years before.

But the situation facing Japanese-Filipino children will remain serious unless the law changes, Satake said, as the number of apparently sham marriages with Japanese men is on an uptrend, while divorces among Japanese-Filipino couples are also increasing.

“Whatever decision the top court makes, it will affect any child whose mother is of foreign nationality,” Ito said.

Tapiru, who works for a nongovernment organization to support Filipino residents in Japan, is resolved to fight on and win Japanese nationality for Masami.

“Every time we go to an immigration office to renew Masami’s visa, we are reminded that she is not Japanese,” Tapiru said. “I won’t give up. If we lose, I will lodge another lawsuit against the government.”