Of housekeepers and birth records

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

Bamban Mayor Alice L. Guo’s ongoing hearing has produced more questions than answers. The senators grilling the embattled mayor have committed errors in their questioning, jumped to conclusions based only on a single term, or made generalizations. So let’s address some of these observed holes in the ongoing drama in the Senate.

While it is true that the late registration of Mayor Guo’s birth, the inconsistencies in her family’s birth records, plus the absence of any records for her parents, do raise alarm bells, these are not unique to Mayor Guo. Many records do not always have the most accurate of information, with inconsistencies ranging from the spelling of names to dates of vital events.

Many are unaware that mandatory civil registration in the Philippines started only in 1930. While civil registration wasn’t a priority for the Spaniards, the Catholic Church did document baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials of their parishioners, making these our primary sources from that period. The Americans mandated that civil registers be maintained and that municipal secretaries be required to submit reports to the Bureau of Archives, marking the beginning of the centralization of civil registration.

Republic Act 3753 (Civil Registry Law), which took effect on February 27, 1931, established a civil register to record everything concerning the civil status of individuals. While most towns started implementing mandatory registration of vital events in their jurisdiction, it wasn’t until August 19, 1940 that the Bureau of Census and Statistics was created and that most registrations began to be recorded.

Over the years, records continue to be incomplete and unregistered. During American colonization, families in far-flung areas refused or forgot to register births. In 1975, President Ferdinand Marcos was alarmed at the incidence of non-registration of births after official findings indicated that every year, 25% to 40% of births and deaths were never recorded. In 2020, the PSA observed continued non-reporting of births, estimating that 2 in 10 children were not registered at birth. They also discovered that many senior citizens only registered very recently or only acquired a copy of their birth record recently. By 2022, an estimated 127,919 were only registered 30 days (or more) after birth.

Mayor Alice Guo claimed she was the maid’s daughter, this was the reason why she was unable to elaborate on her family life. Her lawyer also stressed that her birth certificate (and those of her siblings) pointed to her mother being a maid as her occupation was “housekeeper”. Just because the mother’s occupation is housekeeper, this doesn’t mean maid automatically. Philippine birth certificates used (and continue to use) the terms housewife and housekeeper to indicate the occupation of women who did not have formal jobs and these terms were interchanged. There was no rhyme or reason when a particular term was applied. For instance, several prominent families in Manila had the occupation housekeeper for the mothers, such as the birth record of former first lady Imelda Marcos, whose mother is listed as a “housekeeper” in her birth certificate. Though housekeeper does refer to “one who is paid to take care of another’s house”, in Philippine context they do not always mean “maid”.

Everyone should understand how civil records developed to truly grasp the meaning of terminologies used and what certain deviations from the normal means. A delayed registration is not automatically suspicious. Erroneous and inconsistent dates do not necessarily mean evidence of a crime. And, not finding one’s birth record in the PSA is not immediately a sign that such person does not exist.

Millions of births continue to be registered late, some for as short as days to sometimes years. These are realities in our country. Also, perhaps to earn people’s sympathy, claiming that one’s mother was in fact a maid because one’s birth certificate says her occupation was ‘housekeeper’ is erroneous. This fixation on birth certificates has just further muddled the issue.

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