MANILA, Philippines - At least 7.5 million Filipinos have not registered their names upon birth and are therefore stripped of some civil and democratic rights such as secondary education and the act of voting.
Many of them, especially those in far-flung areas, are denied enrollment or cannot graduate from high school to eventually obtain a college degree because they have no birth certificates to prove their age or identity.
Plan country director Carin van der Hor said that ARMM has the highest rate of unregistered individuals at 62 percent of the population equivalent to roughly 970,000 people unrecognized by the state.
"It means that out there a lot of Filipinos do not enjoy the right to a name and a nationality, this is a basic human right. It means they cannot prove their identity. (They) have difficulty enrolling in schools, applying for jobs, securing travel documents," van der Hor, a Dutch national helping destitute communities in the country, said.
Families are kept from having their names officially recorded due to their lack of understanding of its significance and to a registration process that was too difficult and time-consuming,
They are also concerned about the costs involved in processing and obtaining birth documents, which require them to spend anything from P30 to P400.
"High fees and the distance of the registration office from where they live really hinder the process," she added.
The group had even seen senior citizens and those over the age of 80 only recently acquiring their birth documents through Plan's registration initiatives set up in provinces and distance locales.
Shield from abuse
Van der Hor, whose work involves the protection of children vulnerable to abuse and danger, also explained that individuals without birth certificates are at risk of being traded for forced labor or sexual slavery.
"Minors whose age cannot be verified through official record may become a very easy pray for human trafficking and in fact we've seen that happen,"
She added that trafficking syndicates know how to choose those who do not have proper paperwork and whose identities cannot be proven.
"Needless to say, birth registration is a child protection tool that helps ensure that children in conflict with the law are not treated as adults, for instance, and it reduces the risk of children being trafficked, among others," van der Hor said.
Involving local government
Plan signed an agreement with the League of Cities of the Philippines represented by Marikina City Mayor Del de Guzman on Friday to "share resources and technical expertise" in facilitating the registration process for members of the population.
The larger registration problem, however, exists not in urban areas but in smaller municipalities in provinces.
"Maybe (some local government units) are thinking na meron namang gumagawa ng birth certificates ... or maybe they are waiting for the program coming from the chief executive," De Guzman said, adding that there is a lack of awareness among local leaders of the certification issue.