Senate panel approves bills granting Filipino citizenship to Kouame, Marañon

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 24) — Ivorian Angelo Kouame and Spanish striker Bienvenido Marañon are now just one step closer to becoming Filipino citizens.

The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Wednesday passed Senate Bills No. 2058 and 1391 which grants Filipino citizenship to Kouame and Marañon.

This comes a week after the counterpart bills were unanimously approved on the third and final reading at the House of Representatives.

During the virtual hearing presided by committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon, both athletes expressed their desire to become full-fledged Filipinos by showing their commitment, and even singing the national anthem.

"No matter what team I'm going, whether it's here in the Philippines or outside the country, whenever the national team calls me, I will be present because this is what I really want," Kouame said.

"This is what I've been seeing in my dreams, so I really call the Philippines my home and representing the Philippines is something that comes from the bottom of my heart," he added.

Kouame's naturalization is being pushed by Senator Sonny Angara, who is also chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, in the hope of having the 6-foot-10 big man join Gilas Pilipinas in international competitions, including the upcoming window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

The 23-year-old athlete from Ivory Coast is a 2-time UAAP champion with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, and the league's Rookie of the Year in 2018.

"The last bill we passed for our Philippine national team was in 2013 or 2014—that's for Andray Blatche and he really helped us in our international tournaments, but he’s hit the peak of his career and we need some fresh blood and Ange Kouame really provides that," Angara said.

"I think Ange is not really here just to play basketball, but he's really here to make the Philippines his home. He's grown up, he has a barkada here, he has friends, he has an organization that cares for him and is really prepared to help him settle in," he added.

Meanwhile, Marañon’s citizenship bill is authored by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, with the 34-year-old athlete longing to join the Philippine Azkals.

The Spanish-born player is the all-time leading scorer of the Asian Football Confederation Cup, and a 4-time Philippines Football League champion with Ceres-Negros FC and United City FC.

"In the five years that he has been playing football in the Philippines, Bienvenido Marañon has come to love the country and its people. He engages himself in community work, collaborating with local football clubs in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Boracay and Manila," Zubiri said.

"We hope that with this measure, Mr. Marañon can continue to inspire the youth and contribute to our national football program. We look forward to his contributions as part of our Azkals and we hope he can also continue his good work as a member of the Filipino community," he added.

After getting the nod of the Committee, the bills will now reach the plenary for second and third reading approvals.

Once it passes the upper chamber, the bills must then be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte for both athletes to become Filipino citizens.