What Does 'Persona Non-Grata' Mean in the Philippines?

What comes with being unwelcome?
Photo/s: Facebook/VinCentiments

In 1998, the City of Manila declared Hollywood actress Claire Danes a "persona non-grata" for saying in an interview for her film "Brokedown Palace" that she found the Philippine capital to be a "ghastly" place during shooting and that there were cockroaches everywhere.

In the quarter of a century that followed, Philippine cities and municipalities have declared popular personalities who offended their localities as "persona non-grata", the most recent of which was actress Ai-Ai delas Alas and filmmaker Darryl Yap, who were both censured in Quezon City over a satire video on social media.

What does 'persona non-grata' mean?

It's part of diplomacy and is enshrined in the UN's Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This is the code of conduct that governs how governments interact with each other under the UN framework.

A person who is part of a diplomatic mission, like the ambassador, charges d'affaires or their staff, can be declared as "persona non-grata" meaning they are "not acceptable" to the host country.

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This would mean that the "persona non-grata" could be recalled or terminated, meaning they should return to their home countries. It's getting booted out of a country in diplomat-speak.

The receiving state can declare someone as "persona non-grata" without having to explain its decision, which it can also do so even before the diplomat arrives.

What about the Philippines?

In February 2020, the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued a legal opinion on the case of a mayor who is being declared a "persona non-grata", wherein it also explained the censure in the LGU context.

Interior Sec. Eduardo Ano acknowledged that the practice was adapted from the Vienna Convention. However, the repercussions would depend on the local government that censured the person.

A resolution declaring someone as "persona non-grata" is a "declaration of the sentiment or opinion of a lawmaking body on a specific matter," Ano said.

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Expressing such a sentiment should be "done within the bounds of law", Ano said. In the case of the mayor in the legal opinion, the interior chief said he should not be barred from taking office just because he is declared "persona non-grata".

The case of Ai-Ai and Darryl Yap

Delas Alas and Yap were both declared "persona non-grata" or unwelcome in Quezon City to show that freedom of expression should not be exercised at the expense of institutions, according to outgoing Councilor Ivy Lagman, who pushed for the tag.

The censure should also serve as a lesson for content creators to "think twice" before posting similar content on social media, said Lagman.

The city council, on Lagman's prodding, declared Delas Alas and Yap as "persona non grata" for a viral video during the campaign wherein the comedienne appeared to parody reelected Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.

Lagman said the seal that was placed behind Delas Alas' character in the video, which looked like the Quezon City seal, had the words "BBM" and "Sara" instead of "Lungsod Quezon". 

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"Ito po ay patungkol sa paglapastan sa SEAL ng Quezon City. Yes you are free to be expressive with your work, but not at the expense of something which QCitizens hold in high regard," she said.

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