Worsening corruption and morale at the Bureau of Immigration
After several weeks of public hearing, the Senate Blue ribbon committee established the direct complicity of corrupt officers of the Bureau of Immigration in human trafficking and “VIP escort services” of international fugitives in and out of the country. At the same time, it plunged the Bureau into the public’s lowest esteem. And the employees, now laughingstock of the “yearbook meme”, have become highly demoralized.
These all happened under the watch of long time BI employee now commissioner Norman Garcera Tansingco who worked as chief of staff of former commissioner Marcelino Libanan from 2007 to 2017. It must be frustrating for him to sit for several hours and days listening to the blatant accusations of senators against his bureau, particularly, a relieved immigration officer, who “escorted” and smuggled out foreigners on Feb. 13 aboard a chartered private jet in Naia bound for Dubai.
There was also the involvement of the PNP officer who knew of the “anonymous human trafficking activity as early as 3:09 pm that day involving aircraft with Tail no. N9527E”. Why were there no investigation or arrests made five hours before the reported “unauthorized flight”? Who failed here? Is it the Aviation police? Or was it the failure of the CIQ (Customs Immigration, Quarantine) agencies at the NAIA? These are questions, I hope the Blue-Ribbon committee can answer. Sources say, included in this flight were five Chinese fugitives with a “budget” of one million reasons each or a total of five million reasons. This info gave the “bukulan rumors”, a hot potato news, some ‘credibility”.
There are also unconfirmed reports that the same immigration officer involved here was earlier relieved after another questionable arrival of Chinese foreigners in Clark airport several months ago. As to how much are the reasons, we cannot yet ascertain. But, again in the Senate hearing, Tansingco promised the senators that he will relieve this “escorting” immigration officer, put on floating statu, until the BID Board of Discipline resolves his case.
About a month ago, two immigration officers at NAIA and one at Clark airport were investigated for involvement with international human trafficking syndicates. Victims often end up in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand while some went through Malaysia and Singapore. In the investigation, Airport CCTV caught these immigration officers on camera, giving signals to the victims’ handlers and swiftly approving their exit visas. Witnesses revealed before the Senate committee on women, children, and family relations that Chinese mafia-run businesses in Cambodia are paying $ 3,000 (P162,000) for every Filipino worker for expenses such as fake vaccine certificates, pre departure hearings and other records. The immigration officer who stamps the recruits’ passports then receives P70,000 to 75,000 per worker. And once again as expected, Tansingco ordered the relief of these three immigration officers, pending investigation.
Overall, BID Commissioner Tansingco is making the right moves so far. Before, the head of the Airport Operations Division (AOD) oversee all NAIA terminals 1,2,3,4 and reporting directly to his office. These tasks are now assigned to the respective Terminal managers who will select their own immigration supervisors and all immigration officers at the counters. They are directly accountable to Commissioner Tansingco on whatever happens within their respective turfs. I see this as a brilliant move to address the weaknesses and “physical limitation of our airport facilities at the NAIA”. At the same time, instilling very clear accountability to BID officers will help the Bureau in its drive for improved services and governance.
However, under this set-up, expect the airport immigration personnel to more super strict with our travel documents. They are there to ensure that all Filipinos are protected from being illegally trafficked in foreign lands i.e., for forced labor or prostitution because the Bureau of Immigration is commissioned to be part of an inter-agency committee known as Inter-agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT). The immigration role is to the check the bonafides of those crossing our borders, Filipinos travelling abroad, or foreigners seeking entry to our lands. These officers will continue to check, verify and validate the intentions of Filipinos who travel abroad.
On the other hand, there will be continuous efforts of schemers, syndicates, traffickers, and intruders to discredit and weaken our border controls. And unfortunately, some legislators were even calling for relaxed immigration policies. Whatever happens, I believe that immigration officers should continue to be very strict and offload people with questionable profiles if necessary. Yes, our people need jobs abroad, but how many end up as slaves, prostitutes and jobless? How many have fallen victims to the scheming hands of these syndicates?
The inter-agency committee or IACAT should go after these human traffickers in the barangays and shut down the conniving manufacturers of these fake documents and putting them both in jailWe all know that “huge money” is being offered to each of these victims, and to their accomplices in exporting their victims. Human Trafficking syndicates are a real threat and very rampant in our country today and now they are targetting highly educate victims.
As of late, the country maintains its Tier 1 status in the annual Trafficking in Persons report (TIP- a four tier classification) The US State Department also recognized Manila’s assistance to a total of 6,772 potential trafficking victims and around 1,143 Filipino trafficking survivors from the Middle East and Asia. The PNP through its Women and Children Protection Center says 3 percent of 10 million Filipinos working overseas are without a contract. That’s almost 300,000 of our women abroad. We should move now, today, against these human trafficking syndicates and arrest and dismantle them. Let us not wait for their prospective victims to reach the airports and therefore offloaded.
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