By Atty. Anfred P. Panes
The Philippines is one of the signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international human rights treaty that guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of all children regardless of socio-economic and cultural differences.
As a State Party thereto, several positive aspects of development in the codified laws have been legislated to promote the best interest of the child which include but not limited to the following:
(a) Republic Act 8552 (Domestic Adoption Act of 1998);
(b) Republic Act 8043 (The Inter-Country Adoption Act);
(c) Republic Act 7610 (Anti-Child Abuse Law);
(d) RA 10165 (Foster Care Act of 2012);
(e) RA 11222 (Simulated Birth Rectification Act); and
(f) Republic Act 9231 (Elimination of Child Labor), among others.
Adoption laws are some of the legal instruments acknowledging the rights of the child. In the Philippine legal system, the parents are obliged under the law to provide care, custody, and security of their children to guide their holistic development. In the insufficiency of efforts to materialize those, our law allows State agencies to provide for alternative foster care and adoption of children so that no child would be left neglected, orphaned, or abandoned. Hence, the enactment of adoptions laws revamped as Republic Act 11642 or the Domestic Administrative Adoption and Alternative Child Care Act with regard to the easing of the procedural aspect of adoption in the country.
Under the previous domestic adoption law, the procedure to adopt a child entails a long judicial process before the Family Court which needs the undertaking of case study, court hearings, supervised trial custody, and publication of and opposition to the adoption decree, to say a few. In the case of inter-country adoption, while the Inter-Country Adoption Board (ICAB) processes the inter-country adoption, it does not divest the Family Court of the authority to receive the petition for adoption and check the formal and substantive requirements thereof before it can be referred to the ICAB.
However, the judicial intervention in the adoption process will soon become a thing of the past. With the enactment of the new law, the most significant change can be gleaned on the procedural development to make the adoption process a purely administrative proceeding.
The new law on Domestic Administrative Adoption Act created the National Authority for Child Care (NACC) which will soon take over the matter related to childcare and adoption. The NACC will also function as a quasi-judicial agency to which its legal existence as an administrative agency with quasi-judicial functions carries with it the conferment of the power to determine the rights and obligations of parties through adjudication or rule-making.
The NACC will supersede the previous functions of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the ICAB in relation to adoption and alternative childcare. The NACC will also have the power to declare a child legally available for adoption as a precondition for the issuance of decree of adoption.
It has been ruled in a catena of Supreme Court decisions that the ever increasing variety of powers and functions given to administrative agencies recognizes the need for the active intervention of administrative agencies in matters calling for technical knowledge and speed in countless controversies which cannot possibly be handled by regular courts.
The NACC, as a quasi-judicial agency to be engaged in the adjudication of adoption proceedings, will be empowered to investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, and draw conclusions from them, as a basis for their official action and to exercise discretion of a judicial nature.
To ensure technical and specialized knowledge in the agency, it has been aptly provided under the new Domestic Administrative Adoption Act that the NACC will be headed by the DSWD Secretary as the ex officio Chairperson of the NACC and will include six (6) other members which will be comprised of the following:
(a) one (1) psychiatrist or psychologist;
(b) two (2) lawyers who have at least served as Regional Trial Court judges;
(c) one (1) social worker; and
(d) two (2) representatives from nongovernment organizations (NGO) engaged in child-care and child placing activities.
The Domestic Administrative Adoption Act was signed on January 6, 2022 and will take effect fifteen (15) days after its publication in the Official Gazette or in newspapers of general circulation. In spite of the easing in the procedural aspect of adoption process, some of the substantive aspect of the previous adoption laws are still in effect as to the age requirement, in full capacity of civil and legal rights, of good moral character, has not been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude, emotionally and psychologically capable of caring for children, and who is in a position to support the child, among others.
According to the UN Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization, approximately 1.8 million children in the Philippines which comprises more than 1% of the entire population, are “abandoned or neglected”. This is statistically relative to the thousands of children accounted by the DSWD as legally available for adoption.
Child neglect, abuse, and abandonment are some of the attendant issues besetting the country today. The Filipino society may have been seen with an imagery of abandoned children problem due to extreme poverty, domestic violence and abuse, natural disasters and armed conflicts especially in the south. However, it does not have to stay that way. The new law will make adoption more expedient, equitable, and reasonable but without sacrificing the legal safeguards.
While a child may not be totally helpless in this world, it is at least our moral responsibility to look after those who are in dire need. This development in the legal system, interfacing with the social reality, is just one of the reinforcements to promote the best interest of the child to nurture their growth and to guide their development. What we can hope is that it can serve its purpose.
The author is the Founding Partner of A.Panes Law and Professorial Lecturer of the USA College of Law.