Saturday, May 15, 2021


The Ten-Minute Test

If you had to leave home in an emergency, and only take three things with you, what would these be? Could you easily grab your important personal and legal documents in a ready-to-go bag before swinging out the door?

Or let us say that there is no emergency, but you need a document urgently, as when your son is looking for his birth certificate so he could join a school sports competition; or when you need to check if your fire insurance policy should be renewed; or when a loved one is sick and you need his medical documents, and similar situations.

Emergency or not, it’s always best to keep your most important personal legal documents within easy reach, yet in a safe place. 

While you may get copies of these documents if they are lost, it would be cumbersome to do so, for this will take time and expenses. Besides, if your important items are heirlooms or rare souvenir pieces, there is no way to recover these if lost or destroyed.

What are these important personal and legal documents?  

I have identified the top 15 documents in Part One of this ebook, and developed checklists to help you organize and keep them safe. You may or may not have all the items in the list, which I tried to make as comprehensive as possible. On the other hand, you may have more items than those in this list, so feel free to expand it to suit your purposes.

Part Two shows you different document storage solutions. Depending on how important the documents are, and how often you need to access them, you may choose one or more of the suggested storage solutions.

There is a section for valuables, which will include not just documents but items such as spare car keys, jewelry, heirloom pieces, photographs, and others. 

The title refers to your top 15 personal and legal documents. By this, I mean the top 15 kinds or categories, so there can be more than one document for every category. For example, the first set of documents refers to “Civil Registry”, meaning birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates. As we go along, I will enumerate more documents for each category. To help you navigate through these, I included a checklist at the end of each section for your use.

There are also documents that can appear in more than one category. For instance, under “Vehicles,” I included not only vehicle registration papers but also insurance policies. There is also a category entitled “Insurance”, in which the insurance policies should also be included. You have the choice of filing your vehicle insurance policy under the “Vehicles'' category. Then under the “Insurance” category, you can include an index card for the vehicle insurance policy, indicating its policy number, date of issuance, date of expiration, and a statement that the policy itself is filed under the “Vehicles” category. In this way, you can easily access the document. You may also choose to have a photocopy of the vehicle insurance policy in the “Insurance” category in addition to the original that is under the “Vehicles'' category. Go with the method that works best for you.


1. Civil registry

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. from Pexels

Civil registry documents are birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, and records of other incidents that happen in the life of a family. These may include orders or decisions of courts or administrative agencies granting a change of name, correction or cancellation of entries in the civil registry (as when there is an error in the birthplace or spelling of a person’s name), adoption of a child, legal separation, annulment of marriage, declaration of nullity of marriage, or divorce. 

These official records have legal implications, giving persons and their relatives legal protection, privileges, and obligations.

Birth certificates are needed for school registration, to obtain a driver's license, marriage license, and passport. These are also needed to apply for social security and avail of retirement benefits, among others.

Persons who are not registered at birth are legally unrecognized because there is no official record of their existence. Birth registration shows a child's identity and nationality. In the web article entitled "Importance of Birth Registration"  on the website of Voices of Youth, Social Activist Divya Sharma explains that "Without a birth certificate, children may lack access to services like health care and education. A lack of recognition and support will ultimately make the life of children more complex as they grow older." She adds that "A simple birth certificate opens up the world of opportunities for a child", such as access to health care, education, protection, inheritance, and a permanent record of existence.

Marriage certificates prove the legal relationship of husband and wife. It is needed for several reasons, as when the wife would like to change her surname to that of her husband's in her official documents such as her driver's license or passport. Also, it is needed for health and life insurance benefits, and for tax purposes. In certain countries or states, spouses must transact jointly in buying a house and lot, and copies of marriage certificates may be required as part of the transaction documents.

Death certificates are legal records of persons that have died. This is necessary when the deceased left properties and there are persons who are entitled to inherit from him. If the deceased left bank accounts, these cannot be closed without proof of death and the execution of a deed of extrajudicial settlement or court proceedings for the probate of any Last Will and Testament that he may have left. These are also needed before insurance proceeds, death benefits, and funeral benefits can be claimed. Another important effect of the issuance of a death certificate is that the deceased person's name will be removed from the registry of voters after the local civil registrar reports it to the government agency in charge of election records.

Your Checklist:

_____ Birth certificates

_____ Marriage certificates

_____ Death certificates

_____ Document proving change of name document

_____ Document proving correction or cancellation of entries

_____ Adoption decree

_____ Legal separation decree

_____ Annulment of marriage decree

_____ Declaration of nullity of marriage

_____ Divorce decree

_____ Others: ____________________

2. Passports and travel documents

Photo by Spencer Davis from Pexels

Passports are universally recognized identification documents issued by your government. They give information not only about your identity but also your date of birth, place of birth,  and nationality.

Passports are owned by the issuing government, and not by you. If you are an American, this is stated in the passport itself. US law states that a US passport "at all times remains the property of the United States and must be returned to the US Government upon demand."

So also, if you are a Philippine citizen, your passport is owned by the government according to the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 (Republic Act No. 8239); you are a mere possessor, and you should not surrender it to anyone other than the government.

Depending on your country's laws, it may or may not be easy to obtain replacements for lost passports. In some countries, the requirements are quite stringent, requiring clearing periods and police reports.

There are instances when a person is not entitled to a passport. In such a case, the government may issue him a Travel Document allowing him to cross international borders based on a treaty, to allow him to go to his home country or to a designated destination. This is usually allowed for one-way travel only.

For children who travel abroad with both parents, they need to have their own passports. However, when they travel with one parent only, or when they travel with adults who are not their parents, they need additional documents showing that one or both parents have authorized them to travel with a specific companion.

In the United States, this is known as the Minor Travel Consent Form, and a sample can be found on the website of the US Passport Service Guide. In addition, there is a Child Medical Consent Form allowing the child’s companion to make certain medical decisions if necessary when the child is on travel. More information and a sample form can be found at

In the Philippines, the document needed by a minor is known as Travel Clearance, and it is issued by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). All the requirements for securing a Travel Clearance are found on the DSWD website. This is for minors who are traveling with persons who are not their parents.  

You should also include in this category your other international identification documents such as the Permanent Residency Card also known as Green Card in the United States, the Hong Kong Identification Card for HK residents.

You can also include travel-related documents like mileage rewards cards, frequent flyer cards, special travel privilege cards, travel vouchers, vacation certificates, cruise certificates, promotional vacation giveaways, airline tickets, and others.

Your Checklist:

_____ Passports

_____ Travel  documents

_____ Minor travel consent form / travel clearance

_____ Residency cards

_____ Mileage rewards cards / frequent flyer cards

_____ Special travel privilege cards

_____ Travel vouchers

_____ Vacation certificates

_____ Cruise certificates

_____ Promotional giveaways

_____ Airline tickets

_____ Others: ____________________

3. Real estate documents

Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels

Land titles, condominium certificates of title, and similar documents are proof that you own a house, lot, condominium unit, or other real estate. These are documents issued by the appropriate government agency to property owners. The documents given to property owners are "owner's duplicates" because the originals are kept in the custody of the government official in charge of the registry of property.

Tax declarations are issued by the local government unit that has jurisdiction over your house and lot, or condominium unit. These contain the assessed value of the property on which annual real property taxes are based. These must be filed together with the official receipts showing payment of real property taxes. There may be other terminologies for these in different jurisdictions, but all these are proofs of real estate ownership which you must have copies of. If there are transactions involving your real estate such as a lease, mortgage, or donation, you would be better off including these in this category, because it is easier to find these with related documents.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Kidney failure: from uncertainty to glimpses of hope

 I had no idea that my kidneys were shutting down. When I  first learned about it, I did not know how to feel. For a moment, I was on the verge of being scared, apprehensive of an unknown future. Dialysis? What is that? But I controlled my feelings and decided to let my mind take over. Otherwise, if I let my feelings take over, we don't know where that's gonna go.

Though my brother and dad had chronic kidney disease (CKD) and underwent dialysis, I only had a vague idea about it. I know it's a procedure for people whose kidneys are no longer working. A machine filters the blood because that's what their kidneys can no longer do. But the actual experience of being hooked up to a machine was beyond me.

In hindsight, I felt all the symptoms, and it seems like it was building up for months. I was just not aware that this was kidney failure. I thought the symptoms were pointing to a heart attack. I'm a heart attack survivor, and I was dealing with the symptoms with that in mind, symptoms that were familiar.

Palpitations. That's one of those telling signs that something's wrong. I've been very sensitive to this because it's difficult to ignore. The heart beats irregularly, sometimes fast and so strong that I could feel myself shaking. The heart flutters, pounds, then becomes faint, and then goes fast again and then becomes faint again. It's more pronounced when I'm resting, and makes me feel tired, uncomfortable, and causes me to perspire.  It's tiring because the heart is overworking when the body is not. At times, I wanted to get out of my own body, if you understand what I'm saying. I don't know how else to describe it. That happens on really bad days.

Next is shortness of breath. I was having difficulty breathing. I liked to walk my dog around the block but increasingly I noticed that after a few meters, it got so hard to breathe that I felt my chest was about to explode. There were times when I had to exhale with a low sound so I could inhale more deeply.  I thought I had asthma because it was just so difficult to breathe. I thought the masks that we had to wear because of COVID19 caused difficulty in breathing. This became worse through the weeks, up to the point when it was so difficult to breathe even when I was just sitting or lying down.

During this time, I had to attend court hearings on the fourth floor of a courthouse, and the elevators were not working. I had to take the stairs. I needed to rest ten minutes between floors. I simply could not climb up straight, though I wondered why I could not do that since I used to climb three flights every day in my old office and my heart was strong. Moreover, I worked out three times a week even during the lockdown, but why was I getting weaker?

Another symptom is that I felt tired and worn out. I just wanted to rest and sleep. I had no explanation for this. I worked from home most of the time because of the lockdown, without the need to do anything outside the house, so why did I feel tired?

My ankles and feet were swollen. I had to massage my feet to make the swelling go away. I thought it was because I sat for long stretches at work.

Then there were the unfamiliar symptoms.

My eyes became blurry. I used to read easier without eyeglasses, being nearsighted. Now, even with reading glasses, the letters were blurred.

Itchy skin. The skin became very itchy all over. The itch was persistent, and as it got worse, it felt like the itch was coming from under the skin.

Dry and cracked skin, especially around the ankles. The skin cracked, became reddish and itchy-painful. The skin on the soles of my feet was so dry it started peeling off.

Bruises. There were small bruises that formed easily, even at the slightest bump on any object. Most of the bruises were on the legs, some on the arms. I did not even feel any pain, so this was quite unusual.

Leg cramps. These were few and far between in the beginning. However, these became more frequent at night, sometimes three or four times a night. They were more painful each time, and scary so I didn't want to sleep. I could not sleep well because of this, I had to sleep sitting up because I had fewer cramps that way.

Purple lips. I noticed that my lips were becoming bluish purple. I thought it was just my imagination, but it became more noticeable as the days went by.

No appetite. Food tasted like paper and I was losing my appetite.

Dizziness. Not the spinning kind, but the fading kind.

I consulted doctors to deal with the symptoms, like an optometrist and opthalmologist when my eyes were going blurry, and a dermatologist when my skin was cracking and itchy. But that night in February this year, when all these symptoms came together, I monitored my blood pressure and pulse rate. When my condition got worse, I asked my sons to bring me to the emergency room of the hospital. After a COVID test (which turned out negative), an ECG, a chest x-ray, and a blood test, the doctor told me that my creatinine was more than 800, while the normal count was 70 to 100. And the only way to lower it was through dialysis.

So I had to be confined. Even before I saw my room, I was brought to the dialysis section where a tube was inserted on my neck, connected to my jugular vein. I had my first dialysis for two hours, then was brought to my room.

It was just so sudden. From then on, I've been having dialysis three times a week, four hours each

There were moments when sadness tried to overtake me, but I pulled back, refusing to go in that direction.

I fought this feeling by thinking of the next best thing to do, remembering that God never failed me before and that He never ever will.

Fear tried to creep in too because kidney failure was unknown to me. Dialysis? Transplant? What are these?

I combated fear of the unknown by knowing. My phone's search bar became my weapon against fear. Who are you, kidney failure? What are you? Why should I not be afraid of you?

Then my friends and loved ones became my source of strength.  I had to let some people know, somehow.  I didn't want to walk through this alone. I wanted to know that people will be praying with me, for wisdom, for healing, for the right decisions, the right doctors. I wanted to tell people whom I love and who love me who would not be asking a lot of questions because I didn't feel like explaining what was going on. It was enough for them to say I will pray for you.  And a bonus when they told me about their friends and family who had successful kidney transplants or are undergoing dialysis for decades. Those were a bonus, and I wanted to know more about them. 

These are my glimpses of hope.  I refuse to feel down. I refuse to feel defeated because there are still things that can be done.  I continue to pray for open doors. 

Show me the way you want me to go, Lord God. Lead me to the open doors.  If you don't want me to go in a certain direction, please close the door. It will be easier to find the way because I only have to look for open doors - treatments and management strategies that work for me, from people whom You place in my path. If it's Your will for me to have a kidney transplant, I trust that You will provide the donor, Lord. In all these, may Your Name be glorified. And in these, show me how I can continue to serve You. I pray for all those who are in the same situation as I am, weighing treatment options and waiting for kidney donors. Keep us hopeful, Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen.


Friday, November 27, 2020

Make the child truly your own

Some people "adopt" children by registering their birth certificates under their family name. They do this for the best interest of the child. Although this is a crime, a 2019 Philippine law allows them to correct (rectify) this situation so that the child can truly be their own. This video tells you how.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Live, Jesus, in our hearts. Forever.

Photo by Ike Louie Natividad from

I used to have a strict quiet time rule for myself, feeling that my quiet time was complete when I read X chapters of the Bible each day. I followed a four-chapter-a-day plan and found myself more focused on finishing the chapters than meditating on the Word. As long as I ticked the boxes on the reading plan, I thought it was okay. It was like following a walking-for-health plan, in which I had to log 10,000 steps on my pedometer and that was it.

But is that what quiet time really is? Is that what spiritual formation is - the goal of becoming more like Jesus Christ?

I do not see Jesus bringing out a checklist of scriptures to read each day, and then going about this routine as if He had finished his spiritual formation goal for the day.

I read the Book of John this month to observe how Jesus dealt with people, how he lived. If I am a Christ-follower, then I must know his lifestyle. Thinking of the Book of John, the other gospels and the New Testament in general, I never read any verse that required a quiet time of 30 minutes or one hour daily.

I have read about Jesus spending a lot of time in prayer, about the disciples examining the scriptures to see if the preachers are accurately citing it. 

I have read about Jesus asking the disciples if they can watch and pray for at least one hour instead of sleeping. I have read about Jesus singing hymns and talking to the people about salvation. In my recent study of the gospel of John, Jesus talked about salvation in almost every chapter.

Jesus prayed for the sick. He wept when Lazarus died even when he knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He got angry when businessmen did not give due respect to his Father's house.

He attended a wedding. He talked to an outcast woman. He healed persons with disabilities, one who could not walk and another who could not see. He fed thousands. He did something to ease suffering. He reasoned out so those religious leaders would not condemn a man who could not walk since birth. He saved a prostitute from being stoned to death. 

This is my Jesus. It takes more than ticking off a checklist of verses to be more like him. 

In La Salle College of Law, where I have been teaching for a decade, there is this one-line prayer that stays with me - "Live, Jesus, in our hearts. Forever." 

To be more like him is to let him reign  in our hearts.

Have a great day, my friends!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

11 Tips on How to Do Well in Law School

Artwork by Jeremiah Joenard Olivas Gallo

“Working really hard is what successful people do…”

-Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Law school is not a joke. It is not a hobby. It is serious business; very very serious business.

As a faculty member and assistant dean of De La Salle College of Law, I used to join the panel who screened law school applicants. We often asked why they want to study law because this is how we assess if they have the right motivation to go through such rigorous training.

I remember an applicant who said that she was a high school principal, her children were all grown up and there was nothing much to do at night, so she decided to attend law school. Her facial expression and manners revealed that she was simply looking for a hobby to occupy her spare time. I thought she did not have the right motivation and felt she would not last two weeks. True enough, after two weeks, she dropped out.