Critics slam new travel policy as added burden
Migrant workers, a human rights group and lawmakers on Friday pressed the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) to scrap its revised guidelines for Filipinos leaving the country which they said violated the Constitution.
They said the stricter measures will be ineffective in stopping human trafficking, which the Iacat said was the purpose of the regulations.
“These guidelines are violative of the constitutional right to travel and the right to privacy,” said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a former immigration chief.
The new guidelines will be implemented on Sept. 3.
Rodriguez said the stricter rules and additional requirements, such as proof of a traveler’s financial capacity, are “unreasonable” and would cause inconvenience to Filipino travelers and subject them to harassment and extortion by corrupt immigration officers and other airport personnel.
Iacat is allowing Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers to “exercise subjective judgment, whims and discretion” on outbound passengers, he said.
Rodriguez pointed out that even if Iacat crafted the revised guidelines to curb human trafficking, it is “unreasonable and unjustifiable” to subject all Filipino travelers to stricter rules.
“They are proposing to burn the whole house down to kill or catch a rat,” he said.
Rodriguez said one way human trafficking syndicates could skirt the rules was by providing funds to their victims as “show money” or proof of financial capacity.
Not this way
Kabataan Rep. Raoul Danniel Manuel agreed that Iacat should scrap these “unnecessary requirements” for Filipino travelers.
“If the government wants to solve human trafficking, this is not the way. It should use confidential and intelligence funds to monitor and conduct surveillance on those who are possibly involved in human trafficking, instead of conducting surveillance on ordinary Filipinos who want to travel or work abroad,” Manuel said at a press conference on Friday.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Thursday said the stricter travel regulations “will most likely” be applied to 90 percent to 95 percent of “first time travelers” while the overwhelming majority of Filipinos going abroad will need only to present basic travel documents.
Migrante International, an organization of Filipino migrant workers, said the new travel policies will only burden ordinary travelers and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) instead of effectively combating human trafficking.
“This new policy is misguided and violates Filipinos’ right to travel,” said Migrante chair Joanna Concepcion. “It should be junked immediately.”
According to Concepcion, the revised travel guidelines will result in “increasing the element of arbitrariness in immigration officials’ decisions.”
“The fight against human trafficking does not justify this violation,” she added.
Concepcion pointed out that the Philippines had been recognized as one of the top labor exporting countries in the world, and its migration policies were examined globally.
“It seems that the Iacat did not use that lens in making this policy which will surely fail from a rights-based examination,” she said.
The new policy would add to the “already considerable state exactions” imposed on OFWs and all migrant Filipinos.
“The new policy puts the burden of fighting human trafficking on individual Filipinos, not on the government or human traffickers and their syndicates,” she said.
Concepcion pointed to the “snail-paced, if not nonexistent” response to her group’s reports to the authorities about human trafficking cases, such as the student visa scam for travel to Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
For human rights group Karapatan, the new Iacat guidelines will only put more burden on Filipinos, especially OFWs.
“Instead of showing how traffickers should be dealt with, for example by at the very least investigating and prosecuting the self-declared ‘son of God’ who is wanted in the US for sex trafficking, the implications and burdens of [these] new rules by the Iacat will be shouldered by millions of overseas Filipino workers and travelers,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told the Inquirer.
She was referring to televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, who is wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for sex trafficking.
The new guidelines would mean “essentially restrictions to travel,” Palabay said.
These guidelines state that the basic travel documents consist of a passport that is valid at least six months from the date of departure, a valid visa, boarding pass and confirmed return or roundtrip ticket.
However, an immigration agent may require answers regarding travel details and supporting documents like proof of hotel booking or accommodation, financial capacity or source of income, employment, documents proving one’s relationship to the sponsor of the trip and the sponsor’s proof of employment, and others.
The BI will hold the departure of passenger found to have fraudulent, falsified or tampered travel or supporting documents.
An airline passenger may be prevented from boarding if he or she fails to establish the purpose of travel, has inconsistent or insufficient travel or supporting documents, fails to show proof of financial capacity, or is accompanied by a foreign citizen who is not a relative by blood or affinity.
Those going on sponsored trips will need to present the original Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) birth certificate or marriage certificate as proof of first civil degree relationship, residence permit, overseas employment certificate (OEC) or any other equivalent documents of the sponsor who is an immediate family member.
First-time OFWs need to present their OEC or OFW clearance issued by the Department of Migrant Workers, valid employment visa or any equivalent document, employment contract and a visa usage undertaking. Returning OFWs basically need the same requirements except for the last.
Justice Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano IV clarified that the guidelines “do not impose any additional burden” but rather represent the government’s efforts to “streamline and organize existing requirements.” INQ