MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Immigration procedures are undergoing revisions following complaints over the apparently overly strict implementation of departure protocols for travelers leaving the Philippines, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.
In a statement, the DOJ said the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking is “in the process of revising the departure formalities to better reflect current trends and plug the gaps that arose along the way.”
IACAT, chaired by the DOJ, serves as the coordinating and monitoring mechanism on all anti-human trafficking efforts of the government.
Several travelers have complained on social media about missing their flights or being offloaded after fielding probing questions by Bureau of Immigration officers.
“Moreover, we are in coordination with the BI and other stakeholders to minimize the inconvenience caused by the departure formalities to Filipino travelers,” the DOJ said, adding that the “excessive or inappropriate behavior” of some immigration officers are being investigated.
According to a source familiar with procedures, immigration officers may ask follow-up questions when a travelers’ circumstances — like not having enough pocket money or a visible source of income — raise suspicions. Those with acting working visas to a third country could also come under scrutiny, a source said.
Fight vs human trafficking
The DOJ, however, stressed that BI officers are tasked to protect Filipinos from human trafficking and other dangers.
“The departure formalities are only one of IACAT’s measures to combat human trafficking. It is an integral part of a holistic and multi-dimensional campaign that involves prevention, protection, prosecution, partnership and policy,” it said.
The department noted that a recent scheme—recruitment of educated and well-traveled Filipinos who have the financial capacity for travel to work in call centers engaged in online scamming—poses a challenge to the implementation of departure formalities.
“The underlying problem here lies in the fact that for these new schemes, it is extremely difficult to distinguish regular passengers from potential victims of human trafficking. The main consideration of the department is not only stopping trafficking per se, but also lessening the victims of this heinous crime,” the DOJ said.
“We are asking for the public’s consideration in bearing with the BI in its efforts to combat human trafficking,” it added.
According to the DOJ, the BI deferred the departure of 6,788 out of 1,056,247 Filipinos who exited the country’s international airport. Of the figure, 57 were referred to IACAT as likely victims of human trafficking. The rest were deferred for other reasons such as incomplete, improper or misrepresented documents. — Gaea Katreena Cabico