PERSONA NON GRATA
During the campaign period earlier this year, a viral video of Filipino comedienne Ai-Ai delas Alas portraying a character, Ligaya Delmonte, was the subject of heavy scrutiny.
By Atty. Jose Maria Santos, Atty. Joey Ramos, and Sophia Muñoz
The short video, produced by renowned (some say infamous) content creator Darryl Yap, appeared to be a parody of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.
However, the alleged parody of Belmonte was not the focus of the controversy. Instead, the apparent defacement of Quezon City’s official seal which was edited to include the words “BBM,” “SARA,” and “KYUSI” and the drawings of a tiger and an eagle, known symbols of the BBM-Sara tandem, therein is what drew the ire of most netizens and eventually the Quezon City government.
For the alleged malicious defacement and ridicule of the official seal of the city, delas Alas and Yap were both declared as personae non grata by the Quezon City Council.1 This declaration was met with strong reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. Yet, despite the colorful commentary, several misconceptions have arisen regarding the declaration of persona non grata.
𝐖𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐈𝐒 𝐏𝐄𝐑𝐒𝐎𝐍𝐀 𝐍𝐎𝐍 𝐆𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐀?
Persona non grata is a Latin term which literally means “an unwelcome person.” The term has a similar definition from a legal standpoint as it is defined as “a person not acceptable to the court or government.”
Having its legal origins in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), the concept of persona non grata is commonly observed in the context of international law. Article 9 of the VCDR grants the receiving state the power to declare any member of the diplomatic staff as unwelcome, after which the sending state must either recall the member or terminate his functions. This provision is invoked by the receiving state as a protection from diplomatic agents who violate or refuse to respect its laws or act or behave contrary to its interests. In the Philippine setting, however, the circumstances resulting in the declaration of such status are not as formal. For one, its application also covers non-diplomats like celebrities and ordinary civilians as the case with Yap and delas Alas. Second, the declaration is largely, if not wholly, discretionary on a governmental authority when it finds that a person has issued a statement or committed an act which it sees as derogatory.
One of the most prominent cases involving this kind of declaration happened back in 1998 involving American actress Claire Danes. Danes issued offensive remarks against the City of Manila when she said that it “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, [had] no sewerage system, and [that] the people [did] not have anything—no arms, no legs, no eyes.”3 When Danes’ remarks went public, the City Council of Manila declared her persona non grata.
Another prominent incident happened in 2019 involving news anchor Erwin Tulfo when he was declared persona non grata by the Dapitan City Council following his demeaning comments against the city. Tulfo pointed out in a press conference that the sight of their police station almost made him cry as it harked back to the Guardia Civil from the Spanish occupation.
Just this year, the Davao City Council passed a resolution declaring vice presidential candidate Walden Bello persona non grata for describing the city as a “trading hub of illegal drugs.”
𝐈𝐌𝐏𝐋𝐈𝐂𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐒 𝐎𝐅 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐃𝐄𝐂𝐋𝐀𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍: 𝐁𝐈𝐍𝐃𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐎𝐑 𝐍𝐎𝐍-𝐁𝐈𝐍𝐃𝐈𝐍𝐆?
What does the declaration of persona non grata entail for its subjects? As previously pointed out, there are stark differences between how persona non grata is used internationally and here in the Philippines.
Under international law, the sending state has an obligation to take action as provided under the VCDR once it receives a notification that one of the former’s diplomatic representatives has been declared persona non grata. More importantly, the declaration of persona non grata is binding on the subject and, as a result, he/she is barred from entering the territory of the receiving state.
On the other hand, being labeled a persona non grata through a resolution issued by an LGU has no real, actual, or legal consequences.
In 2020, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) explained through a legal opinion6 the implications of a resolution declaring someone a persona non grata. In its opinion, the DILG cited Municipality of Parañaque v. V.M. Realty Corp.7 wherein the difference between an ordinance and a resolution was explained. While an ordinance is a law, a resolution is merely a declaration of sentiment or opinion of a lawmaking body on a specific matter.
Thus, while an LGU acts within its power and authority in issuing a resolution declaring someone as persona non grata, it has no tangible effect on the actual subject. Rather, the declaration is simply the LGU’s way of expressing its sentiment or opinion against a certain individual which carries with it no repercussions.
All in all, contrary to popular belief, the person declared as persona non grata is not actually restrained from entering the territory of the LGU which meted out the status. As it has no binding effect, the resolution cannot prevent the affected person from exercising the rights accorded by our constitution. To permit this restriction in movement would be to impair the constitutional right to travel as enshrined in our Bill of Rights.
𝐂𝐀𝐍 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐃𝐄𝐂𝐋𝐀𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍 𝐁𝐄 𝐋𝐈𝐅𝐓𝐄𝐃?
In 2021, the local government of Barangay Bigte in Norzagaray, Bulacan lifted the persona non grata declaration on an Australian national after the authorities admitted that the passing of the resolution lacked basis and suffered from several procedural issues.
While an LGU acts within its power and authority in issuing a resolution declaring someone as persona non grata, it has no tangible effect on the subject.
In the case of delas Alas and Yap, Quezon City’s 4th District Councilor Ivy Lagman said that a sincere public apology from the two could cause the lifting of the declaration of personae non grata.
As of writing, there is no precedent as to the lifting of the declaration based on concrete grounds. It appears that the decision is likewise discretionary on the body that imposed the order.
𝐒𝐎𝐂𝐈𝐀𝐋 𝐏𝐑𝐄𝐒𝐒𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐏𝐔𝐁𝐋𝐈𝐂 𝐒𝐇𝐀𝐌𝐄
While an LGU resolution does not exact any punishment or penalty and does not produce any legal consequences whatsoever, a declaration of persona non grata places unwanted negative attention and heavy scrutiny on the subject. After all, what is being publicized is the subject is unwelcome, albeit not literally, in a particular jurisdiction.
1. See QC council declares Ai-Ai delas Alas, Darryl Yap ‘personae non gratae’, CNN
Philippines, June 8, 2022, at https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2022/6/8/Ai-ai-Delas-
2. See Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th Ed., p. 1300.
3. See Manila is mad at Claire Danes, CBS News, Oct. 1, 1998, at https://www.cbsnews.
4. See Bert Laput, News anchor Erwin Tulfo declared persona non grata in Dapitan,
Rappler, May 8, 2019, at https://www.rappler.com/nation/229926-erwin-tulfo-declaredpersona-
5. See Grace Cantal-Albasin, Davao City declares Walden Bello persona non grata, Rappler,
Mar. 22, 2022, at https://www.rappler.com/nation/davao-city-declares-walden-bellopersona-
6. DILG Opinion No. 30, s. 2020. February 7, 2020.
7. G.R. No. 127820, July 20, 1998.
8. See Eloi Samonte, ‘Persona non grata’ vs. Australian national lifted, FrontpagePH, May
13, 2021, at https://frontpageph.com/persona-non-grata-vs-australian-national-lifted/.
9. See Christia Marie Ramos, QC’s Lagman: ‘Sincere public apology’ from Ai-Ai, Yap may
lift ‘persona non grata’ status, Phil. Daily Inquirer, Jun. 8, 2022, at https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1608121/qcs-lagman-sincere-public-apology-from-ai-ai-yap
Atty. Jose Ramos Jr. Ramos graduated in 1996 from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in A.B. Philosophy, earning his Juris Doctor degree from the same university in 2000. He was then admitted to the Philippine Bar in 2001. Currently, Ramos is the co- Managing Partner of the GSE Law Firm. He heads the Litigation Practice Group and is a member of the Executive Committee.
Atty. Jose Maria Santos Santos graduated in 2013 from the De Lasalle University with a degree in B.S. Legal Management. He then earned his Juris Doctor degree (with honors) from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2017 and was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 2018. Santos joined GSE Law Firm’s Litigation, Labor, and Immigration Practice Groups in June 2019.
Ms. Sophia Munoz Munoz is a legal intern in GSE Law Firm. She is an incoming fourth year law student in the University of the Philippines. Munoz graduated in 2015 from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in B.S. Legal Management.