by: Krissy Tiu (Photo by: Keith Allison/Flickr)
Filipinos love basketball and we would love nothing more than to see the Philippines represented in this sport at the Olympic Games. In order to be one of the twelve teams vying for the Olympic gold, the Philippines must qualify by winning the Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) Basketball World Cup or one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.
This is why FIBA’s “passport-before-the-age-of-16 rule” has garnered a lot of attention. The eligibility rule, which is found in Book 3 Chapter 1 of the FIBA Rules and Regulations, requires “any player having the right to acquire a second nationality at birth” to “lay claim to this right” before reaching the age of 16. This means that if a player is a dual citizen, he or she must obtain a Philippine passport before turning 16 years old in order to represent the country in a FIBA tournament.
Who is a dual citizen?
A dual citizen is a person who is concurrently regarded as a citizen of more than one state under the laws of those states. Under Philippine law, a dual citizen is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who is also a citizen of a foreign country.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution tells us who are considered natural-born citizens:
(1) Those who are citizens of the Philippines at the time of the adoption of this Constitution;
(2) Those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines; or
(3) Those born before January 17, 1973, of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of 18.
Filipino citizenship is a matter of jus sanguinis or right of blood. As long as one of the player’s parents is a Filipino citizen at the time he is born, he is considered a natural-born Filipino, regardless of where he is born. If by law he acquires foreign citizenship through the other parent, he is considered a dual citizen.
This is an entirely different concept from naturalization, which involves granting Philippine citizenship to a foreigner.
The FIBA rule: a technicality
A passport obviously does not determine citizenship or nationality but is only proof of it. The passport-before-the-age-of-16 rule is a mere procedural rule, sort of a buffer, which regulates the participation of dual citizens (or in our case, Fil-foreigners) in FIBA competitions.
FIBA, being the world governing body for basketball, clearly has the authority to lay down such a rule but what is the rationale behind it? To ensure that national teams are predominantly represented by homegrown players? To prevent national teams from being built around players with dual heritage? If so, at what cost? Doesn’t this rule come at the expense of creating a line-up composed of the best?
Filipino basketball talent is not limited to those who are natural-born and those who are dual citizens should not be excluded for simply failing to secure a Philippine passport before the age of 16.
FIBA might have the noble intention of encouraging the development of grassroot players, but this shouldn’t prejudice Fil-foreigners like L.A. Laker Jordan Clarkson, who have repeatedly expressed their desire to play for Philippine team. After all, it is a rule that is still prone to abuse. Qatar actually gave several passports to Bosnians below the age of 16. The thought that these Bosnians have nothing which ties them to Qatar, aside from their passports, is baffling.
(Note: Jordan Clarkson was able to secure his Philippine passport when he was twelve. Also, in any case, the eligibility rules for the Asian Games are different from the FIBA eligibility rules, as the former does not follow the passport-before-16 rule. – Mickey, August 29, 2018)
A showcase of true Filipino basketball talent would not be complete without giving our fellow Filipino-foreigners overseas the opportunity to make the cut. Gilas Pilipinas could certainly get a boost from standouts like Fil-Tongan Mo Tautuaa, Fil-Italian Chris Banchero and Fil-Am Cliff Hodge, just to name a few. I’m sure the national women’s basketball team would benefit as well.
However, whether or not FIBA yields to the numerous pleas, including those of SBP Vice Chairman Robbie Puno and Gilas Pilipinas patron Manny Pangilinan, to relax the eligibility rule there is definitely no shortage of Filipino talent or heart to keep fighting for that Olympic gold.
Krissy Tiu is a lawyer and a former Ateneo Lady Eagle. She comes from a family of basketball aficionados. This is her first contribution to Batas Sportiva.
 Republic Act No. 9225, Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003.
 Section 1, Article IV, 1987 Philippine Constitution.