MANILA, Philippines – A 50-year-old American expatriate went through an emotional and expensive adoption process in the Philippines in taking custody of a Filipino child.
James Lafferty, general manager of British American Tobacco-Philippines, said he and his wife Susan fought for almost two years to gain custody of five-year-old Kenji.
“The court is very thorough. I have to testify six times. My children have also testified in court hearings,” Lafferty told The STAR.
“The adoption went through about a year and a half ago. Because I lived in 15 countries, I have to get police clearance in all these countries, paying $20,000 for attorneys’ fees alone,” he said.
Lafferty said the adoption process in the Philippines is expensive, tedious and time-consuming.
Foreign adoptive parents are required by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to have three to six years of residency in the Philippines.
Under the amended Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on inter-country adoption, foreign adoptive parents must have the following qualifications: at least 27 years old; has the capacity to act and assume all the rights and responsibilities incidental to parental authority under his/her national law; has undergone appropriate counseling from an accredited counselor in his/her country; has not been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude; is eligible to adopt under his/her national law; can provide the proper care and support and give the necessary moral values and example to the child and, in the proper case, to all his/her other children;
Comes from a country that has diplomatic relations with the Philippines; whose government maintains a foreign adoption agency; and whose laws allow adoption; and files jointly with his/her spouse, if any, who shall have the same qualifications and none of the disqualifications to adopt as prescribed above.
“During court hearings they asked me what would I deprive him…if he needed my kidney take both and I will die. He can take my liver, my kidney I would absolutely die for him. He’s my son,” Lafferty said.
In December 2007, Lafferty received a call from an orphanage in Antipolo, Rizal asking them to become foster family of a three-week-old baby boy.
He said he was informed by a social worker that the baby was abandoned in a garbage pile by his mother.
Lafferty, then the general manager of Procter & Gamble Philippines, was donating overruns of their soap products to the orphanage.
“I was informed that the mother tried to abort the baby and that she has signed a waiver allowing him to be adopted,” he said.
In March 2008, the DSWD allowed the couple to become the foster parents of Kenji.
“We only wanted to help but then we fell in love (with the baby),” Lafferty said.
He said his four children, Michael, 27; Morgan, 24; Kristen, 21 and John-Patrick, 18, treated Kenji as their own brother. Kenji turned five last Sept. 12.
“If I can save a life… if I can take a boy who had no opportunities that is my legacy. He can be somebody, he can be a productive member of society,” he said.
The couple retained the name given to him by his mother.
“His name is Kenji Ramos, and we did not change the name given to him by his mother. He is a Filipino,” said Lafferty.
“I can’t save the world but I can save one. I can give this young man a chance. He is the apple of my eye, the center of my life,” Lafferty said.
Support for RH bill
Lafferty expressed his support to the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill to minimize cases of teenage pregnancies in the country.
“I do support the RH bill. Me and my wife were teenage parents,” he said.
Aside from helping abandoned children, Lafferty also supports Filipino athletes.
He is currently training athletes who will participate in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Lafferty, who writes a regular column for The STAR, is a physiologist by profession and a former fitness trainer.
He also teaches at the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.