From allegations of extortion to plain abrasiveness, Filipinos in the UAE have hit back at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) immigration officers, saying they will request that President Duterte takes his no-nonsense stance and impose appropriate action against the erring government employees.
The matter stemmed from reactions in the community apparently stirred by a Filipino Times report about moves by the Philippine government to ask the UAE government at the bilateral level to consider granting visa on arrival for Pinoys.
The Filipino Times was flooded with calls and emails from overseas Filipinos (OFs) saying they were not as concerned about being denied entry into the UAE so long as they have the proper documents, as they are about not being allowed to leave the Philippines even if they have those documents.
The OFs claimed officers of the Philippine Bureau of Immigration resort to intimidation to arbitrarily offload UAE-bound passengers holding visit visas and Affidavits of Support.
They said such action infringes on their constitutional right to travel.
The Filipino Times repeatedly tried to reach Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente for comments but failed. His office has always maintained that immigration officers were merely exercising their mandate to ensure the welfare of Filipinos leaving the country.
Officials of the Departments of Labor and Employment as well as Foreign Affairs (DOLE and DFA) said there is a “delicate balance” between a guaranteeing person’s freedom to travel and the immigration officers’ task to scrutinize Pinoys leaving the country.
“Very delicate balance ‘yan,” said Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno, Jr. On the OFs’ plan to bring their sentiments to Duterte during his visit tentatively set for the third week of May, Vingno said: “They have their right to express their views. Others may not necessarily agree but that’s how democracy works.”
Overseas Workers Welfare Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac, in a phone interview from Manila, said it’s the immigration officers’ job to scrutinize Filipinos leaving the country and check their papers. He said OFWs, for their part, should ensure that they have proper documents.
“Trabaho ng ating immigration officers na magkaruon ng paniniguro na ang mga umaalis ng bansa na mga manggagawa, lalo na yung papunta ng Middle East, ay napangangalagaan,” Cacdac said.
“Kung ang sirkumstansya ay kaduda-duda (kaya di pinaalis), para sa akin ay para sa kabutihan na rin yun ng mga kababayan natin. Kumuha muna ng sapat na dokumentasyon mula sa gobyerno natin. Isipin nyo na lang na kung di ganun kahigpit ang mga immigration officers, makakaalis ang maraming mga kababayan natin at ang susunod dyan ay tataas naman ang mga kaso ng abuse,” Cacdac said.
He said issues about abrasive immigration officers can be addressed through appropriate seminars.
“Kung meron namang may nasusungitan o may di magandang ugali ang immigration officer, o kung ang isyu ay di tama ang pakikitungo, yan ay masusulusyunan sa tamang seminar. At kung talaga namang abrasive yung tao ay ireklamo po nating sa kinauukulan,” Cacdac said.
Vice Consul Von Ryan Pangwi said the right to travel is not absolute and can be curtailed if national security so dictates. “It has become a public security issue already,” he said.
Lawyer Barney Almazar of Gulf Law said allowing visa on arrival for Filipinos “will make immigration officers more corrupt.”
“Why? Because currently even if you have a visa, they offload you. What more if there’s no visa required?” he said.
He also argued that by virtue of the visit visa, the bearer has been allowed by the UAE government to enter the country; therefore, he said, it’s a violation of that bearer’s right to travel if he or she’s denied plane boarding by immigration.
Almazar said the government may want to consider allowing those with legitimate documents – visit visa or ASG – to leave the country with a stern warning: “Travel at your own risk.”
“The government said they are protecting the people so they offload them, that these people are vulnerable and cannot protect themselves, that they want to ensure safety. To simplify, the government doesn’t want you to die.
“But these people are risking their lives to earn for their family. How many OFWs die abroad? How many people die of smoking, yet they just warn you? Why don’t they just warn the OFW, ‘Travelling without government registration can kill,’ just like in cigarettes, ‘Smoking can kill.’”
Roy Tamano of the Kilusang Pagbabago (KP), said some BI officers allegedly abuse their power to make “milking cows” of OFWs. “They are fishing out resources to those who have money to spare and offloading those who could not afford their demands.”
“With the new administration of Pres. Duterte, they should examine and review the old practices and invite some former OFWs to add inputs on how to formulate a very sound policy as regards the welfare as well as status of those who want to go abroad with a good intention of earning a living,” he said.
KP was formed last October as a grassroots support organization for Duterte.
The visa on arrival proposal was raised during former acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr.’s meeting with the Filipino community, made on the premise that Pinoys in the UAE, numbering approximately a million, have been consistent contributors to UAE’s growth.
What are the documents being scrutinized?
Two kinds: The pink visit visa in case of a tourist or the Affidavit of Support and Guarantee (ASG) for Filipinos sponsored by their kin in the UAE .
The visit visa is processed by a UAE-based travel agency and usually states that the bearer is a sales representative, which gives him or her away to immigration officers because the job description raises a flag. “Kapag less than 50 years old po, sales rep ang nilalagay namin, kapag over 50 ay business person,” said an employee of a travel agency in Karama, Dubai popular among OFs.
Vingno, said the embassy thoroughly reviews ASG applications. “Kung Dh1,500 to Dh2,500 ang sweldo, pano ba naman makakapag-support ng kamag-anak yun? Nakatira ka sa flat na may 20 hanggang 30 katao tapos magi-invite ka?” he said.
Pangwi said there have been certain travel agencies that include ASG in their package. “No travel agency is allowed to process ASGs. A request for ASG requires personal appearance sa embassy. So ‘pag di ka nag-personally appear, peke yang hawak mo,” he said.
Instances where a relative of an OFW was offloaded for carrying a fake or suspicious ASG are perennial at NAIA, officials said.
“Kahit nakapasa na sa ASG, ang final say ay nasa immigration officer,” said Pangwi. (Jojo Dass)