DOJ defers new travel rules after much flak
The Department of Justice (DOJ), through the Inter-Agency Council Against Human Trafficking (Iacat), announced on Thursday that it was suspending the implementation of the revised departure guidelines for Filipino travelers amid concerns raised by senators and “to address the importance of transparency and public consultation.”
But while Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and other senators welcomed the DOJ’s move, calling it proof that the government was listening to public sentiment, they said they would push through with their investigation into the stricter travel policy which was supposed to take effect on Sept. 3.
In a statement, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the DOJ “acknowledges the vital role of our esteemed senators as representatives of the people,” adding that it was part of his department’s duty to address their concerns and provide them with the necessary information and clarifications regarding the travel guidelines.
Remulla later told reporters that the suspension was decided to allow them to clarify questions about the revised travel policy to the senators. “People are [also] complaining. We need to heed the call of the people to review the rules. We’re doing that in the spirit of transparency.”
On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved two separate resolutions, one of which authorized Zubiri to ask the Supreme Court to stop the antitrafficking council from enforcing the policy that senators believed violated Filipinos’ right to travel.
The other resolution urged the Iacat to heed the calls of various sectors to temporarily set aside the revised guidelines.
But the DOJ clarified that the temporary suspension would have no effect on existing laws and regulations governing travel and immigration procedures, saying they remain “in place until further notice.”
It also insisted that the primary objective of the new guidelines was to streamline departure procedures, “ensuring a more efficient and secure process for all individuals traveling abroad.”
Call for witnesses
For his part, Zubiri urged Filipinos who fell victim to the “unreasonable and unconstitutional” guidelines being applied by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Iacat to testify at the hearings to be conducted by the Senate committee on public services.
“I am hoping we will be able to invite even five or 10 of them to share their story, and it will be an open hearing. They’re all welcome, all of them, including those who posted videos on YouTube—we’ll give [them] the protection in the Senate to be able to air [their] side,” he said.
Citing official records, Zubiri lamented that some 32,000 Filipino passengers were offloaded in 2022, but only 1.4 percent of them were confirmed to be human trafficking victims.
“So based on those numbers, it is clear that 98.5 percent of those passengers were victims—not of human trafficking, but of the abuses of a single agency,” he said, referring to the BI.
According to Zubiri, the Senate will inquire into the antitrafficking council’s legal basis to issue the latest guidelines which require the presentation of personal documents, a possible violation of people’s right to privacy.
“So definitely, there are several issues there that have to be resolved by the Iacat before they implement these guidelines, and we put it in a free and open hearing,” he added.
“We look forward to a dialogue with [Remulla] and the Iacat to resolve the issues and find better solutions to combat human trafficking,” Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said, as he maintained that the revised travel guidelines were “unreasonable, prone to abuse and misplaced.”
“The government should not put the burden on our kababayans but instead strengthen their programs against trafficking,” he stressed.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, said the temporary suspension of the revised travel guidelines “averted what could have been a chaotic situation at our airports” as the “cumbersome requirements” may have led to missed flights and boarding delays.
“We are one in our goal to give ease and security to legitimate travelers while making it hard for wrongdoers to victimize the public,” she said.
The DOJ earlier stressed the revised guidelines were similar to the 2015 travel policy and that Iacat was not imposing additional documentary requirements on departing passengers.