Government eyes 'ideal' travel to PH

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo, BusinessMirror

Posted at May 07 2014 07:52 AM | Updated as of May 07 2014 05:14 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines will implement the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) next year, which the Department of Tourism (DOT) hopes will greatly improve the arrival experience of travelers to the country.

Speaking to select reporters on Tuesday, Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. said: “The ideal travel experience is one without interruption. We want the entry of travelers into the Philippines to become as smooth and seamless as possible so we need an efficient tool such as an electronic API. This would avoid long queue in our airports, as we can already identify passengers who are ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ But, of course, we have to have a balance between border control/security with that of ease of entry into our airports.”

He said President Aquino is expected to sign an executive order requiring all commercial carriers to provide Philippines authorities—primarily the Bureau of Immigration—vital information and data on all their passengers not later than 15 minutes upon departure and/or 120 hours prior to arrival to the Philippines.

Implementation of the APIS would also be carried out jointly with the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Budget and Management, Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Quarantine.

Aside from being dubbed one of the worst airports in the world, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport has become a place of pandemonium, especially when flights arrive quickly in succession. Local and foreign travelers complain of long queues at the Immigration, holdups at the baggage carousel areas, insufficient baggage trolleys, and harassment at the customs area, especially during Christmas.

A workshop on the API/Passenger Name Record (API/PNR) was held Tuesday at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel to discuss the importance of API in providing seamless-entry formalities to travelers arriving in the country through improved passenger clearance mechanisms, while ensuring the Philippines’s national security.

Aside from the DOT’s Jimenez, Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison, Deputy Customs Commissioner Editha Tan and representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and International Air Transport Association (Iata) participated the workshop.

In a separate interview, Iata Country Manager for the Philippines Roberto Lim, said it would not be “tedious” for carriers to use APIS in the Philippines as this has already been adopted in some 100 countries, mostly in Europe.

“All we have to do is to synchronize the system with that of the Philippines government. It will be up to the Philippines authorities to align their systems with the airline companies’ systems,” he explained.

The API is an electronic interactive data interchange system between airline companies and governments which include information of passengers such as their full names, gender, date of birth, nationality, country of residence, official travel document number, expiration of travel document, and issuing state or organization of the official travel document. The API may also include the flight details, airport of origin and other destinations of the airline passenger.

The PNR, meanwhile, is a record in the database of a computer-reservation system that contains the itinerary for a passenger, or a group of passengers traveling together.

The US Customs Service, in cooperation with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service and the US airline industry established the APIS as a voluntary program in 1988. The system was eventually codified, computerized, and adopted by the United Nations (UN), and modified by the Iata for use by all air carriers worldwide in 2005.

Jimenez added that APIS would not only speed up the entry of visitors into country but also enable the BI to identify potential threats to national security like terrorists, as well as smugglers, and traffickers of drugs and humans.

While he couldn’t say how much funds are needed to implement APIS, Immigration Associate Commissioner Abdullah Mangotaraassured that the cost would be “minimal.” He added that the APIS has been proposed since 2012, and will be funded through the DOJ.

“The USAid will be supporting us to see through APIS implementation,” explained DOT Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Planning Rolando Canizal. “They will be providing technical assistance to bring in the necessary platform.” The APIS uses the Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Trade initially developed by the US Customs and governments of Australia and New Zealand in the early 1990s, but now administered by the UN.

For her part, Iata Regional Assistant Director Nathalie Herbelles said, once it implements the APIS, the Philippines would serve as a role model among other countries in Southeast Asia.

“Interactive API has its benefits such as giving live information about passengers checking in; potential prevention of inadmissible passengers and related penalties; and use for aviation security since the information is available before the flight takes off,” she said.

In Asia, only China, India, and Japan have implemented APIS.

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