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    Here's the status of Ange Kouame naturalization bill in Congress

    Oct 23, 2020
    PHOTO: Marlo Cueto

    NOW that Andre Blatche is out and Fil-Ams Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle are inside the Clark bubble in Pampanga, Gilas Pilipinas is without a naturalized player option heading to the next window of the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.

    But there is hope.

    There are currently two bills filed in Congress for two naturalization candidates, namely Ange Kouame of Ateneo and resident Ginebra import Justin Brownlee. Another former PBA import, Chris McCullough, has in a number of occasions expressed his willingness to be a naturalized player for Gilas and is in touch with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio.

    Rep. Mikee Romero, owner of the NorthPort team in the PBA, led the signatories of House Bill 8106 that seeks the naturalization of Brownlee. He was joined by Reps. Enrico Pineda, Erico Aristotle Aumentado, and Scott Davies Lanete.

    The bill was filed in August 2018. Nothing much has been heard of it since.

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    On the other hand, House Bill 06216 which seeks to grant Philippine citizenship to Kouame was filed last January 21, 2020 by Antipolo First District Rep. Robbie Puno, who also happens to be the vice-chairman of the SBP.

    Puno, incidentally, was also the author of the bill that led to Blatche being granted citizenship by Congress.

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    Sought for an update, Puno said the Kouame bill was referred to the House Committee on Justice which, in turn, sent the latter's camp a checklist of 21 documentary requirements for the application for naturalization.

    Puno said the SBP and the Ateneo camp are in charge of gathering all the requirements, which he expects to be forwarded to him once complete. But he admitted restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the process both 'tedious and cumbersome.'

    "I filed the naturalization bill maybe two days after SBP indicated to me that Kouame was their naturalization candidate," said Puno. "I filed the bill in January and i have been anxiously waiting to sponsor the measure in the Justice Committee."

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    Puno said he was told that no hearings will be held on the proposed legislation until all the requirements are completed.

    "Once completed, my congressional staff will submit these to the Justice Committee," Puno said. "We are told that the committee will not hold a hearing on the proposed legislation until the 21 documentary requirements are satisfactorily completed."

    Puno said there is urgency on the part of the SBP to complete the naturalization of Kouame, especially with the Fiba Asia qualifiers set to be rebooted under a bubble concept, either next month or in February.

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    But he admitted that completing the requirements has been a challenge.

    "Under the pandemic, nahirapan sila completing the 21 documentary requirements. Halimbawa, kailangan ng barangay, police, and NBI clearances, eh for several months naka-quarantine tayo. Hindi makalabas si Kouame," the Antipolo representative said.

    "There is the legislative calendar to contend with too. Congress is on break until November 16," he added.

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    Granting the requirements have been completed and the hearings start, Puno warned against assuming that Kouame's application for Philippine citizenship will breeze through both chambers of Congress.

    It's not a sure thing, he warned.

    "Everyone should not simply assume, first of all, that there will be no oppositors to this piece of legislation, because certainly, there exists the possibility that the bill could be voted down and rejected, as this is a possibility for all legislative measures," he said.

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    "Even assuming it passes smoothly in the House, it has to be passed in the Senate, then the bill gets routed for signatures, then the President has 30 days to sign it, veto it, or let it lapse into law.

    "Then there is an additional process for passport issuance. The whole process becomes even more difficult given that we are in the midst of a health crisis."

    So if you think the 20-year old from the Ivory Coast can be naturalized in time for Gilas' campaign in the next window of the Fiba Asia qualifiers, don't set your hopes too high.

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    PHOTO: Marlo Cueto
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