OPINION: Internationalization of Citizenship

Edmund S. Tayao

Posted at Dec 16 2019 03:15 PM

In a TV series I recently watched, one of the characters was asked where he is from and his background. He said, he was born of Indian descendants in London but grew up in the US (if I remember it right) and worked in another country. Which led me to ask the question, what is citizenship today other than a piece of paper or legal status declaring your allegiance to a particular country? This is, of course, essential to any individual. Without it, an individual cannot be recognized as a legal member of a sovereign state or nation and his capacity to defend his rights in a state authority will be considerably impaired.

All individuals regardless of legal status have rights, as it is inherent to all human beings regardless of race, gender, nationality and or religion. The enjoyment of these rights however depends significantly on one’s access to the state, which is provided by citizenship. An individual without citizenship only has the presumption of possession and or entitlement of these rights, but it being demandable is something else.

Consider civil rights for example; these are wide-ranging as it includes employment, housing, education and so on. These rights protect the individual from unfair treatment, which are demandable only for citizens of a particular country. Before anyone can work in a country not his own or where he is not a citizen, for example, he is subject to regulations like permits which are not required of citizens. There are considerable limitations too as precisely permits are subject to particular requirements and are time-bound, i.e. renewable after a prescribed period. Now these apply only to those who are citizens of another country who intend to work in another country. Consider one who is not a citizen: How would he be able to find or demand employment?

Of course, conditions in every country always change. How the state acts on particular issues affects the social, economic and political environment. As individuals, you are affected by anything and everything that the government does, by and through policies and programs. There is no doubt that one will not always approve of what the government does, which goes without saying that political participation is fundamental in this regard. How can one express one's approval and disapproval of any government action without political rights? These are of course exercised only with citizenship.

It is political rights that entitle the individual to participate in governance. Note that this participation includes petitioning the government, participating in various activities of government including critiquing and or advocating particular policies and programs in government. Note that we are talking of “governance” here and not the traditional concept of “government,” that which is more congruent with participation compared to the latter. Participation in this regard goes beyond voting during elections, and therefore includes engaging in policy-making and even in implementation.

Governance (as taken from the work of Borzel and Risse) is defined as the various institutionalized modes of social coordination to produce and implement collectively binding rules, or to provide collective goods. Thus, governance consists of both structure and process. Governance as structure relates to institutions and actor constellations. The literature distinguishes the state, competition systems, and networks, (like negotiation systems). As to actor constellations, state governance involves exclusively governments, while both competition and negotiation systems consist of configuration of state and non-state actors (firms, interest groups, non-government organizations (NGOs) and so forth.

This, of course, is a more recent understanding of governance borne out of the growing sophistication of societies all over the world. More than democracy idealizing the involvement of the people in government, the latter simply cannot just do everything without a more active engagement of the people, especially by and through particular sectors. The term governance, however, is not new and in fact was first used during the Reformation, particularly in the transformation of the concept of the state and monarchy at that time. In other words, the use of the term always coincided with reforms.

All of these suggest that governance depends significantly on institutions. Institutions pertain to processes as established and organized by rules and or customs and traditions and oftentimes supervised or regulated, even operated by a particular office or agency. This is the dilemma of politics today, the subject of current discourse between scholars. The borderless world, especially facilitated by advanced information and communications technology, has led to the idea that the whole world is a huge governance complex or network that anyone and everyone can participate or engage politically regardless of place and time. 

There are even those who are inclined to think, rightly or wrongly, that the time has come where formal institutions of government can now be abolished. People can now decide directly anyway as they are informed and empowered themselves. There are mechanisms now in place in some advanced democracies. People directly make or deliberate on policies and even adopt it themselves. These are however at most found in communities or villages. Perhaps the largest example we have now is the Landsgemeinde or assembly in some cantons in Switzerland. Still, these are governed by established processes and administered by an agency. More importantly, these assemblies happen face-to-face and not through the social media or Internet.

The size of the assembly is a fundamental consideration not only because it is difficult to administer, especially for example in trafficking who gets to speak, for how long and how another will respond. Parliamentary procedures, of course, come in handy, but if parliaments or legislatures are any reference, it will take considerable time before an important measure can be passed. Apart from this is the inherent limitation of individuals to actually know enough to decide on important matters. This explains why the principle of subsidiarity is specific to local issues. The competency of the individual is inherently limited that—instead of addressing limitations in governance—the opposite can happen and make matters worse. In Athens before, for example, direct democracy was dependent on a slave economy and only those who were good in public speaking were always the ones heard.

There is no doubt that the borderless world allows everyone to engage, but the question is, if institutions are integral to participation, what institutions are we pertaining to in regard to participation that cuts across political borders? Which institution is supposed to take into consideration the criticism of a government by a citizen or organization of another country? We can also ask in this regard, which institution is supposed to deal with the criticism or action of a state to another state? It is true that we have international organizations that are supposed to deal with these kinds of issues but how effective are these?

In the end, we are back to the same problem that is supposed to be resolved by democracy, that is, inequality. Without established institutions, we’ll still have what we have now and even more, the mighty will still be always right and the ordinary folks will still suffer. We find ourselves debating, even hating each other simply because it will not amount to anything anyway. Worst, we are actually used by the same powers we are supposed to overcome.

There is good reason why citizenship requires allegiance. Of course, one can argue that dual citizenship is now allowed in some countries, including ours, but it does not do away with the requirement of allegiance; precisely why one is made to swear allegiance when given citizenship. Citizenship is granted by the state and is anchored on its sovereignty, which explains the requirement of allegiance. Note for example that there are even gradations or specific categories of citizenship as defined by law in most countries, providing exact entitlements of enjoyment of political rights. Not every citizen for example can run for President or even in some other lower or minor elected positions. In other words, one cannot be a dual citizen equally of both countries. A particular citizenship will always carry more weight than the other.

Allegiance presupposes loyalty as it comes with the assumption of concern to one’s country, as it should be consistent with pride that comes with one’s identity. Concern presupposes responsibility that is assumed to result to, or include knowledge, going out of one’s way to really understand particular issues in a particular country in order to participate effectively. As established in the foregoing, participation was borne out of the growing sophistication in society today, which makes knowledge fundamental, that without it negates participation entirely.

This leads us to another dilemma that one has to ask if, as argued by scholars recently, that governance is indeed possible without a state. Information is widely available, no doubt, but the reliability of this information and therefore the danger of misinformation or even just incomplete or lack of reliable information is a fundamental concern. Let’s say we can really have a borderless, even stateless, direct democracy, how sure are we that our decisions will be sound, or better than what we now have, if it will be based on wrong information?

(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.