Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Can a Foreigner Own Real Property in the Philippines?

Believe me, the question is not answerable by yes or no, since I intentionally worded the title to cover two types of properties that may or may not be owned by a foreigner (not including a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who lost his/her citizenship by naturalization in a foreign country but later reacquired the same through the Dual Citizenship law). For foreign nationals the answer to this question is not a hard and fast rule.

Understanding What is Considered Real Property

Under the Philippine Civil Code, real property includes not only the land but all the accessions rooted to it, i.e. buildings, trees and their crops.  Consequently, a foreigner may not be able to own the land, they can however own the building (and condo units in it) because the Philippine Constitution specifically prohibits ownership of the land by foreign nationals.

Ownership of Condominium Units

When I used to work in a government office, this scenario became even more significant by an American national who came to our office to complain about Philippine government employees who he says refused to act on his complaints regarding a condominium unit he bought.  Well, it wasn't my personal case, but it was the case of one of my investigators.  Since everyone at the office knew I am married to a foreigner, and since he is my staff anyway, I conducted the interview.  To make a long story short, during the course of the interview, I learned of a significant flaw in his case.  He bought the condominium unit and put it under the name of his significant other (not his wife).  Now that is wrong in so many levels, one of which is that on paper he is NOT the OWNER.  Consequently, he cannot execute acts of ownership on the property, like complaining on the substandard materials used on "his property".  I do not even understand why he did not put it under his name, when he could have put it UNDER his NAME all along.  We are talking of a condominium unit after all, NOT land! Consequently, there should have been no legal deterrent to his full ownership of the condominium unit.  Even on matters of succession, he would have to make a case in court to show he is actually the owner of the condominium unit and not his "significant other."

Foreigners Cannot Own Land Even By Succession

Laws are presumed to be consistent with existing laws including the Constitution.  Thus, although the rules on succession may provide that the spouse (who may be a foreign national) would inherit property (including land) from his spouse (Filipino), it cannot inherit in a manner such that he/she (a Foreign national) would have title to the land.  At most, what would happen is that the land may be sold to a Filipino and the proceeds from the sale shall constitute the inheritance of the foreign national. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Getting Used to the New Normal

Those who know me personally, and not just from this blog, know that I am undergoing cancer treatment.  It is unfortunately Stage 3A Breast Cancer; advanced but not too advanced yet that I feel hopeless.  Although I must admit some days I think of my mortality and wonder how all these planning about the future is futile if later on they find out it had metastasized to another body part, i.e. they see five lesions in my liver that may be benign but also may be cancer but at this point it is too small to know for sure if they are or aren't cancer.  So honestly, I have that lingering thought of my mortality sometimes.

I am turning 48 soon, in less than a month now. I almost always plan 10-year intervals of my life.  My first few years in the U.S. I planned to take the NY bar and take-up my Masters of Law, hopefully, if God is willing in a reputable law school.  I don't claim to have great grades in Law School but I have excellent work experience. I think most of the heads of agencies I have worked for, know me by name. The last time I asked for referral letters, I got really heart-warming praises from my last boss and even from previous bosses.

On the other hand, work or work-related efforts and responses have been pretty dicey.  Since my experience is very much specialized (government corruption) and difficult to cross-over to private law firm work (i.e. personal injury and family law) I have had great difficulty finding work.  Not that I have made a lot of effort. In fact I have not made too much effort, because I know finding work right now will be next to impossible with my cancer diagnosis and treatment plan.  I go to chemo now once a week for twelve weeks.  I know no employer will take me with that treatment plan.  Nonetheless, when I first started looking for a job, before my final diagnosis, I did get two requests for interviews, which I declined after I knew for sure I had a far more advanced cancer than I thought.

So I had started thinking about what I truly wanted to do with my life.  And frankly, I have started to think I want a less restrictive life than a "JOB."  I am thinking that this time of lull may be what I need to look at more freelancing work, or building a more professional blog on a different platform.  I am also thinking of shoring up on studying aspects of law that may be more practical for someone like me who wants to practice in both the U.S. and the Philippines, topics like Elder Law, Social Security, Veterans Affair, Trust and Estates, U.S. Immigration, etc.

I am just thinking out loud of course. On the Philippine side I am thinking on shoring-up on more studying on Property and Philippine Immigration.

What do you think? Good Idea?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Advocating Your Healthcare

During my husband's last health crisis in the Philippines, I have come to realize how it is incredibly important for a foreigner to have someone advocate for their healthcare.  Let me explain.

When my husband was bedridden for awhile because of his back pain (spondylosis) and after his initial hospitalization, we contacted the Veterans Affair in Manila at the end of October 2015.  He was given oxycodone to manage his pain.  However, one of the significant side effect of oxycodone is constipation.  So you can imagine how difficult it was for my husband to manage constipation when he could barely walk to the bathroom.  I cannot tell you how difficult that time was for me (as a caregiver) and for my husband as a patient.  We requested the VA in Manila several times for valium which my husband knows to be effective for him in previous bouts of back problems and does not have the same side effects.  I called VA Manila constantly, asking the primary care doctor to either refer us to a back specialist OR give us a Valium prescription.  By the end of November 2015, I still did not hear even a bleep from the VA.  Upset, angry and at the verge of a meltdown, I dug deep into my "lawyer" mode, and brought my disabled husband in a wheelchair to the VA even without an appointment.  I wrote a long letter to the VA director and although we had no appointment I demanded to speak to either our primary care doctor OR to a patient advocate.  The staff at the reception/lobby at the VA was ready to dismiss me as just another Pinay, but I look them in the eye, spoke fluent English, and told them I was not leaving until I spoke to either our primary care doctor or to a patient advocate.  Once I spoke to the patient advocate, I told him in no uncertain terms, that if the primary doctor doesn't do anything to help my husband over a clearly service-connected disability, I will have his medical license revoked for negligence.  To make a long story short, we changed primary doctors then and there and the new primary doctor scheduled us with a spine doctor in less than a week.

As a foreigner, it is difficult sometimes to be taken seriously in a foreign land.  Your "loud" "cantankerous" manner can be viewed as something that  most foreigners are prone towards and the average Pinoy can view it as menacing.  Most pinoys may just ignore you or report you to the Bureau of Immigration as an undesirable alien. But it helps when you do have someone who can advocate for you who is a Pinoy and not necessarily a laywer.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

U.S. Public Education System vs. Philippine Private Education System

First, I would like to make a caveat that I am making a comparison between the U.S. public education system vs. the Philippine private education system, which are two educational systems my son has been exposed to.  The Philippine public education system, with the exception of the well-known science high schools like Philippine Science High School, Manila Science High School and Quezon City Science High Schools, is something I would not go into evaluating since I myself have not been exposed to them.

Philippine Private Schools

Depending on the private school your child is enrolled in, some schools like Ateneo and the Katipunan-schools do try their best to maintain a level of excellence they can be proud of.  They are above average, so you get a lot of feedback from them.  My son went to John Dewey School (in Quezon City), which is  a progressive school with a fairly expensive yearly tuition ($2,000 a year).  I get a lot of feedback from the teachers on what my son needed to work on and what he is good at.  I think it is absolutely important that more than just making sure a child improves on something, they likewise need to provide positive feedback on what they are doing right.  So I got that from my son's private school education in the Philippines.  Since I was working 40 hours a week at the time, I honestly did not have a lot of time to tutor my own son.  Even his nanny could not provide the tutoring he needed. So on top of his regular school tuition, I paid a tutor to help him meet his school goals.  I would say I paid roughly an additional P2,000 a week for the tutor.

What I also particularly liked about my son's school was that it taught Singapore Math and Mandarin for the higher elementary grades.

U.S. Public School System

Having been here for a year, I would say first the quality is dependent on the district, after that that it depends on the level of commitment of the teacher.  I learned that the hard way because when we came in on the middle of the school year and we were forced to enroll my son in a school outside our district since ours was full, it turned out that it was a better choice because the teacher he was with on the first year (kindergarten) was excellent in communicating to us first what the expectation was, and second where my son was in that expectation.  Since I am not working at present, I am able to supplement what the school was doing.

The teacher this year is just dismal.  Since we moved to a Montessori setting (with no homework), I had no idea what the standard was for my son's first grade education.  On top of it, the teacher is fairly new into the school system and thinks that "grading" is just a matter of pass or fail without even communicating first what is expected of the student.  There are no benchmarks as to what is supposed to be covered for first grade reading, writing, science, etc. and I have found that I have had to supplement a lot of what my son is not learning in school.

The long and short of it, in either settings, the level of learning a child learns is wholly dependent on the parent.  No teacher or school system is more committed to seeing a child learn more than their parents.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Why Move to the Philippines?

I know it would seem strange that I would encourage you to move to the Philippines, considering I am right now in the USA.  I still consider going back to the Philippines, mainly because I have "retired" there and will begin receiving my pension when I turn 60.  So after I potentially work here for ten years, I can go back to the Philippines and potentially draw 2 pensions.  But since I am younger than my husband and I have a young son who has never known his US heritage, for the mean time, I can see the wisdom of staying here.

But if you are older, like my husband, with limited income (pension), moving to the Philippines may be an option for you.  But, just like him, you have to consider things that may sway your moving to the Philippines:

1) Healthcare
 If you are above 65, you have to seriously consider if living in the Philippines vis-a-vis living in the US with Medicare is a better option for you.  It may be true that Medicare doesn't pay for everything but you also have to ask if the 20% you have to pay above what Medicare covers will just equal the cost out-of-pocket that you have to make in the Philippines.  In the Philippines, there is no, absolutely NO government-sponsored healthcare.  In the US, for low income families, even if you already have Medicare you can also have Medicaid.  In addition, you can look into the Medicare Advantage Plans. So ask yourself how everything will weigh over all.  When my husband was in the Philippines, it appeared that we were spending between P50,000 to P100,000 for diagnostic expenses that is fully covered here as he is a disabled veteran.  On top of medicines that you have to pay also out-of-pocket.  Being an elderly American with potentially a lot of health problems, maintenance medicine can be quite cost prohibitive.

2) Security
Where do you live? How familiar is your wife with the area? How potentially dangerous is it for you a foreigner to live too far away from areas where the police regularly monitor.  Are there Communist Party of the Philippines - National People's Army militants known to roam your area? Unless your wife is quite aware of the present situation in the country, it might be wise to do the research yourself.

Additionally, right now, there are a lot of vigilante killings in the country.  If you irked someone, you may not know what hit you if you get gunned down by a vigilante or hired killer.  Of course, you can try to always lie-low and not be loud and aggressive.  That can also work.  But if you are hard-headed and opinionated, I suggest you stay in your country.  Because this is not the time to be opinionated in the Philippines, right now.

After I virtually ran down your "dreamy" idea of staying in the Philippines, what would make you stay in the Philippines:

1) Low cost-of-living when you consider the present value of the dollar to the peso.

2) Rent is low, unless you buy a house in which case it can be costly.  But unless you are leaving your house to your wife, I suggest not to buy a house because as a foreigner you cannot own land.

3) Utilities are also low.  Our water bill here in the "tainted-water" of Flint is about $80 to $100 compare that with the P300 I used to pay for water bill. But of course, even in Manila, you cannot drink the tap water.  Better just get a water filter or like what we used to do, buy jugs of purified water, which was only about P25 per jug.

As for electricity, the $130 (non-winter) we pay here in the US is almost comparable to the P5,000++ we paid in the Philippines, when we used our air conditioner 24-hours.  But of course, we just air-conditioned a small room 24 hours so that probably accounts for that.

4) Groceries if you don't keep buying things at SnR , can also potentially be low.  If you keep buying those imported American products, it is clear that your groceries can be high.

5) College for children is still more reasonable, than the cost of college here in the US.

For me, the only reason I want to go back to the Philippines is that it is my home.  I am sure your wife may feel the same way about the Philippines and it can be a place you can consider for yourself when you retire.

The winter weather is not something I like, myself, but then again my husband didn't like the constant rain in the Philippines. Moving to the Philippines should be planned carefully and thoughtfully because you can potentially die there already if you are much older, and you should ask yourself if you are at peace with that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Direct Consular Filing (And How We Made the Move)

For the longest time we stayed in the Philippines (about seven years) and did not think much about moving to the US.  But after the many health crises that my husband had, and a recent increase in his VA disability rating, we realized it was better for us to make the move.

So how does one who reside in the Philippines, convince consular officers that he had the intent to reside in the US? Remember the term "residence" and "domicile" are two separate concepts where the former is more flexible than the latter. I have previously discussed on this topic to show that "domicile" is the place where you intend to return.  Consequently, even though you may presently reside in the Philippines, you can still make a case as to how you have the intent to return to the US, and reside therein.

Unlike filing a Petition for Alien Relative in the US, Direct Consular Filing in the Philippines, particularly in the US Embassy in Manila, requires that you reside in the Philippines.  The US Embassy in Manila lists the following documents as sufficient proof of residence in the Philippines:
  • Resident Alien Card
  • Foreign Property Deed/Rental/Lease
In addition, other evidence of residency may include, but is not limited to:
  • Utility bills
  • Housing lease
  • Work contract or other employment documents
  • Proof of local registration
  • Local bank statements
  • Proof of school enrollment
  • Vehicle registration
  • Valid local driver’s license
  • Tax documents listing an address in the Philippines
  • Passport entry stamp
  • Foreign property deeds or registration (although proof of property ownership in itself, may be insufficient if there is no evidence that the petitioner resides at that property)
Take note that the approval of the petition and the approval of the visa are two different things.  Once you hurdle the approval of the petition, you have to hurdle the visa interview.  An important document to be submitted is the Affidavit of Support (AOS).

In the AOS, you need to prove that you are living abroad temporarily. If you are not currently living in the United States, you must provide proof that your trip abroad is temporary and that you have maintained your domicile in the United States.

Examples of proof of temporary residence abroad are: A. Your voting record in the United States; B. Records of paying U.S. state or local taxes; C. Having property in the United States; D. Maintaining bank or investment accounts in the United States; E. Having a permanent mailing address in the United States; or F. Other proof such as evidence that you are a student studying abroad or that a foreign government has authorized a temporary stay.

In case you don't have either of those, you have to establish that you intend in good faith to reestablish your domicile in the United States no later than the date of the intending immigrant’s admission.  It may be proven with the following documents, as follows:
  • A declaration of intent to reestablish U.S. domicile
  • Accepting a job in the United States
  • Signing a lease or purchasing a residence in the United States
  • Registering children in U.S. schools
  • Any other documents that prove you have taken steps to establish domicile
Some websites propose coming up with an actual statement (Letter) declaring the intent to re-establish domicile.  But in our case, my husband literally started our lease during the period just before we scheduled for the visa interview.  Thus, he was already living in the US even before my interview schedule came-up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Are you Insane?

Psychological Incapacity is the "catch-all" ground for declaring a marriage null and void in the Philippines.  It can be found in Article 36 of the Family Code, and states "a marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization."  

Going through the other grounds I had discussed in a previous article, it is clear that the grounds mentioned therein affects the formal and/or essential requisites. For example, marriage by one of an unsound mind affects his/her legal capacity to marry. 

It must be emphasized that the "psychological incapacity" mentioned in Article 36 is not "insanity" (although my title may have misled you otherwise).  Because insanity as a ground is covered by a different provision.  The psychological incapacity contemplated by law, is one that prevents the individual from "complying with essential marital obligations," and the way that is worded, allows a great deal of discretion on the part of the judge to decide whether or not the factual circumstance of the case is one that may be considered as amounting to psychological incapacity.

Psychological (mental) Incapacity and Not Physical Incapacity

In the case of Santos v. Court of Appeals, Justice Vitug acknowledged that psychological incapacity should refer to no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive (lacking in understanding)of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage.  It involves the incapacity to understand the marital obligations and not merely the inability to perform it. 

Difficulty in Establishing the Ground

As can be seen from the definition of the offense itself, the participation of a psychiatrist in establishing the mental incapacity is absolutely necessary.  Likewise, the fact that either the fiscal and/or Office of the Solicitor General is duty-bound by the Constitution, no less, to voice their opposition or agreement, as part of their duty to ensure that no collusion exists between the parties.  On a side-note I often find it ridiculous that the parties who file for declaration of nullity on this ground, often are quick in remarrying.  After all, this ground presupposes that the guilty party is not capacitated mentally to perform marital obligations.  Nonetheless, it happens and parties (including the guilty one) remarries subsequently.

Instances When Supreme Court found Psychological Incapacity

1. Constant lying about her educational background, lifestyle and work background. (Antonio v. Quisumbing, G.R No. 155800, March 10, 2006)

2. Chronic irresponsibility; inability to recognize and work towards providing the needs of his family; several failed business attempts; substance abuse; and a trail of unpaid money obligations (Reyes v. Reyes, G.R. No. 185286, August 18, 2010)

3. Acts of sexual infidelity and abandonment only if it is shown that such promiscuity existed at the beginning of the marriage. (Dedel v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 151867, January 29, 2004)

Based on the above, it is clear that acts of infidelity alone or abandonment will not give grounds for an annulment.  Likewise will physical violence alone on the other spouse give rise to an annulment, especially if it cannot be proven that it is due to a mental mallady existing at the time of marriage.  In Marcos v. Marcos, the Supreme Court found that the physical violence existed only during the period of marriage when respondent was unemployed for six years and which triggered violent behavior. Consequently, although the physical violence may have given grounds for legal separation, it cannot result in an annulment.