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Apostilles and Their Effect on Foreign Public Documents

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Apostilles and Their Effect on Foreign Public Documents

By Atty. Jonathan de Guzman

On 12 September 2018, the Philippines acceded to The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, otherwise known as the Apostille Convention, which took effect last 14 May 2019.

Before we discuss apostillation, it might be advantageous to ask….um…what exactly is an apostille? Well, essentially, it’s a certificate that verifies the authenticity and legitimacy of a public document.

Apostillized public documents can only be recognized by another state if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The state in which the document was issued is a party to the Convention;
  2. The state in which the document is to be used is also party to the Convention;
  3. The law of the state in which the document was issued considers the document as a public instrument; and
  4. The state in which the document is to be used requires an apostille in order to recognize the document as a foreign public document.

At this point, it is crucial to note that apostille only applies if both states consider the document a public document, and the definition and classification of a public document may differ between states, as defined by the municipal law of each one.

 

Here in the Philippines, the following are treated as public documents, according to Section19, R ule 132 of the Rules of Court:

(a) The written official acts, or records of the official acts of the sovereign authority, official bodies and tribunals, and public officers, whether of the Philippines, or of a foreign country; (b) Documents acknowledged before a notary public except last wills and testaments; and (c) Public records, kept in the Philippines, of private documents required by law to be entered therein.

Under the previous authentication process, documents issued abroad were required to be authenticated by the Philippine Embassy or Consulate General before they could be used here. Under the Apostille Convention, however, a public document can easily be authenticated or apostillized by the issuing authority, called the Competent Authority, of the state where the document was executed, allowing it to be used in other countries, provided, as previously mentioned, they are also a member of the Apostille Convention. Let’s say, for example, a certificate of birth originating in Japan is required to be presented to one of the government agencies here in the Philippines. Under the Apostille Convention, the certificate will be treated as a public document here once an apostille is issued by the Competent Authority in Japan.

Simply put, the purpose of an apostille is to authenticate the origin of public documents intended to be used abroad. Much like in the traditional method, an apostillized document certifies only the origin of the document; it certifies the document as authentic and the authority of the person who certified the document as a public document. The apostille does not certify the contents of the public document.

To ensure the authenticity of the apostille, the Competent Authority is required to have a register of all the apostilles it issues for verification should it be necessary. Now, what if the State in which the document is to be used is not a party to the convention, will the apostille have an effect? The answer is no. Such document will only be recognized as a public document by reverting back to the traditional mode of authenticating public documents.

The Hague Conference on Private International Law keeps records of the contracting State Parties to the international law and their corresponding Competent Authorities that issue apostilles in their respective states.

Here in the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs – Office of Consular Affairs (DFA- OCA) is the registered Competent Authority that issues apostilles.

Atty. Jonathan de Guzman. August 20, 2019.
LINK: The Hague Apostille Covention
Picture by Andrew Stutesman @ Unsplash

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