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Immigration chief cancels all approved leaves of employees

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Wednesday threatened to declare absent without official leave (Awol) Bureau of Immigration employees who would not report back to work after he ordered the cancellation of all approved leaves for this month.

Morente ordered the leaves canceled to ease immigration staff shortages at international airports that had been caused by mass resignations and leaves in the bureau.

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Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has blamed the staff exodus on President Duterte’s order stopping the immigration bureau from using the express lane fund to pay its employees for overtime work.

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Thirty-two immigration officers have resigned since Feb. 17 and 50 more have filed for leaves of up to six months to look for new jobs. More than 3,000 employees of the bureau have gone on leave since Feb. 17.

Heavy passenger traffic is expected at international airports this month with the start of the summer travel season.

Traffic is expected to peak during Holy Week and to deal with the heavy volume of travelers, Morente has ordered 170 employees from different offices of the bureau to serve on the immigration counters at the airports during the holidays.

Apparently that is not enough, so Morente has ordered the cancellation of all leaves. “Pending and would-be filed leave applications will also be disapproved,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Those who filed for leaves during the month have to report back to work since their leaves have already been canceled,” Antonette Mangrobang, spokesperson for the immigration bureau, added.

Those who will defy the order will be declared Awol and may be subject to administrative liability, she said.

Augmentation force

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The augmentation force has been deployed to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) and the airports at Clark, Davao province, Kalibo and Mactan, with 150 assigned to Naia and 20 to the four provincial gateways.

Morente said the deployment was only temporary, as the employees would be recalled to their own offices after Lent. The reassignments would slow down a bit work at the affected offices, he said.

“I appeal to our rank-and-file to remain patient and focused on their responsibilities, as everything is being done to address their financial plight that resulted from the loss of their overtime pay,” he said.

Appeal to Duterte

Morente and Aguirre have appealed to President Duterte to reconsider his decision axing the overtime pay.

They have proposed that the overtime pay be temporarily restored until Congress can enact a new immigration law that will upgrade the salaries of the bureau’s employees.

The employees, too, have appealed to Mr. Duterte to allow the bureau to use the express lane fund again to pay for overtime work, warning that the agency was on the “brink of collapse” because of the exodus of staff.

“Our families will suffer tremendously. We will have very limited resources to pay for our monthly bills and rents. We will face extreme difficulties in providing for the basic needs of our loved ones. Our children may not finish their education,” the employees said on Wednesday in an open letter to Mr. Duterte.

“With massive layoff and exodus of personnel, our beloved bureau is in the brink of collapse,” they said.

They said the express lane fund, generated from fees paid by travelers for fast processing of documents and has been in place for 30 years, had been the “ultimate” source of compensation for the bureau’s employees.

Immigration officers are paid P16,000 a month, but bring home up to P48,000 with their overtime work paid from the fund.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has allowed the immigration bureau to add 887 positions so that current employees do not need to work overtime.

But the Immigration Officers Association of the Philippines said hiring new staff would not solve the problem at the airports.

“They would be of the same low salary grade like us, so nobody will take the job,” said ER German Robin, president of the association.

‘New formula’

Speaking to reporters at Clark, Pampanga province, on Wednesday, Aguirre said he planned to meet with Morente and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Thursday to find a new solution to the immigration employees’ problem.

Aguirre said Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. proposed a possible solution to the problem during Monday’s Cabinet meeting—putting on the fast track the enactment of the proposed new immigration law.

But Diokno, he said, appeared to be unreceptive to the idea during the Cabinet meeting.

Aguirre said he hoped his next meeting with Diokno would be more fruitful, with a “new formula” on the table. He declined to provide details, however, saying it would be premature.

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TAGS: Bureau of Immigration, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, mass leaves, mass resignations, Philippine news updates
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