MANILA, August 30, 2003 (STAR) Natural-born Filipinos who have become foreign citizens can reacquire their Philippine citizenship under a new law signed yesterday by President Arroyo.

Under the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003, Filipinos who have become naturalized citizens of another country can reacquire their citizenship after taking an oath of allegiance to the Philippines. Their children under age 18 would also be deemed Filipino citizens.

The President also signed the new excise tax on vehicles, which aims to entice global automotive manufacturers to invest and set up operations in the country.

"These two pieces of legislation are consistent with our national goals of creating a more favorable environment for business and accelerating our country’s development," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said the dual citizenship law is a response to globalization and the "strong homing instincts" of millions of ethnic Filipinos living abroad.

There are about 3.5 million Filipinos who have foreign citizenship, including about 1.75 million in the United States, according to Rep. Jose Apolinario Lozada Jr., chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs.

"The international trend is clearly towards increasing the number of dual citizens, and we know that the majority of the Filipinos who migrated abroad did so for better opportunities, but they continue their allegiance to the Philippines," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"This continued allegiance is demonstrated by their maintaining contacts and interest in their homeland and by their intention to retire, own properties and invest their hard-earned money in the country," she added.

Those who reacquire Filipino citizenship will be allowed to vote or run for office unless they are candidates for or are already holding public office in the country where they have become naturalized citizens. Those in active service in a foreign country’s military also will not be allowed to vote or seek public office.

Mrs. Arroyo said the new law is the twin of the Absentee Voting Law passed earlier this year that allows many of about 7.8 million Filipinos overseas to vote.

The overseas Filipinos would be a crucial voting bloc, accounting for about 10 percent of the electorate. About 38 million people were eligible to vote in the last election. Presidential, congressional and local elections are scheduled in 2004.

Legislators have said that the dual citizenship law would also encourage the millions of Filipinos who migrated abroad to return and invest in the country.

Certain areas of the economy are still limited only to Filipino citizens such as ownership of land, practice of some professions and majority control of some industries.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr., authors of the bill in their respective chambers, said the law is expected to bring in huge equity investments from Filipino-Americans who would be encouraged to return to the Philippines earlier to invest their money and expertise or eventually settle here.

Presidential Adviser for Overseas Filipino Communities Heherson Alvarez said Filipino-Americans already remit some $8 billion to the country every year.

"The combined income generated by 2.5 million Filipinos living in the United States and North America alone is estimated to reach $175 billion per annum while the 82 million Filipinos working in the Philippines have only an estimated income of not more than $100 billion per annum," Alvarez said.

Meanwhile, Republic Act 9224 or the new excise tax on automobiles, which amended the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, is expected to generate additional P213.3 million in revenues for the cash-strapped government.

Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho said that the new law will make cars more affordable for consumers because cheaper priced automobiles would be taxed less while more expensive or high-end cars would be taxed more.

"It should lower vehicle prices generally depending on the car model because the tax is now value-based. It would favor lower income levels," the finance chief said.

Under the new law, cars worth P600,000 and below must pay two percent tax while those priced above P600,000 and up to P1.1 million would pay an effective tax rate of between two to 10.2 percent.

Automobiles priced between P1.1 million and P2.1 million are subject to 10.2 to 24.4 percent tax while those over P2.1 million would pay 24.4 percent or more.

Camacho added that the new law no longer provides tax exemptions to special vehicles such as fire trucks and tractors.

After signing the two new landmark laws, Mrs. Arroyo administered the "symbolic" oath of citizen reacquisition of 13 Filipino-Americans led by Yolanda Ortega-Stern, president of the Federation of Philippine-American Chambers of Commerce, who came to witness the enactment of the measures.

Mrs. Arroyo signed earlier this year Republic Act 9189 or the Overseas Voting Act of 2003 which would enable more than six million Filipinos abroad to exercise their right of suffrage in the 2004 elections. — With Sammy Santos, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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