Even Palace spokesperson scrutinized by immigration

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2014 06:52 PM | Updated as of Mar 18 2014 02:52 AM

MANILA - Not even Palace officials are exempt from the scrutiny of immigration officials.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda raised the subject on Monday over complaints regarding the implementation of stricter offloading rules for departing Filipino tourists.

Lacierda pointed out that even deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte was herself the subject of immigration scrutiny in a July 2013 trip to Hong Kong with her son.

"Are these perfect? No, they are not. Just to give you an example, Usec. Valte was also asked the first, when she left the country. She was asked by immigration official 'what’s the purpose of your travel?' She said she wanted to go to Hong Kong to bring her son to Disneyland. These are questions that you would normally be asked and again," he said.

Valte's son was also asked if he is related to the Palace official.

The deputy spokesperson said she was also asked about her place of employment and whether she had a travel authority.

"After responding to the first and producing the document, the immigration officer posed a few questions to my son. Didn’t take longer than 2 minutes, if I remember correctly," Valte said in a text message.

Lacierda said the Bureau of Immigration has appealed for understanding on why it is asking departing Filipino tourists for their return tickets.

He said this is to ensure that departing tourists will not work abroad illegally or are victimized by trafficking syndicates.

"This is not meant to make your travel difficult...I hope we realize that we do have a concern for human trafficking. Our nationals are being trafficked abroad so want to prevent that. And these particular guidelines and implementation use of these guidelines help elevate our status to Tier 3," he said.

He added: "The idea behind the guidelines here is not to prevent a traveler, somebody who wants to travel with all the completed documents, to be prevented from traveling. These guidelines were meant to protect our citizens from human trafficking and also to let the criminals and syndicates know 'we know what you're doing.' This is primarily to protect our citizens from human trafficking."

Lacierda fended off questions on the constitutionality of the offloading rule, asserting that the constitutional right to travel is not absolute.

He cited the Supreme Court decision on the case of the Office of the Court Administrator vs Wilma Salvacion P. Heusdens, Staff Clerk IV of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Tagum City, Davao del Norte. The SC decision stated that: "Exercise of one’s right to travel or the freedom to move from one place to another as assured by the Constitution is not absolute. There are constitutional, statutory and adherent limitations regulating the right to travel."

Lacierda said there are statutory limitations to the right to travel, including The Human Security Act of 2010, the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

The SC decision on the Heusdens case also noted that: "Pursuant to the provisions thereof, the Bureau of Immigration, in order to manage migration and curb trafficking in persons, issued Memorandum Order No. 2011-011 allowing its Travel Control and Enforcement Unit to ‘offload passengers with fraudulent travel documents, doubtful purpose of travel, including possible victims of human trafficking’ from our ports."

Lacierda said the rules are meant to address loopholes in the system being exploited by human trafficking syndicates.

He quoted Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison's statement that the guidelines "do not prevent travel solely on the basis of financial capacity."

The President's spokesman said immigration personnel are trained for the purpose of screening potential victims of human trafficking.

"We periodically train our frontline personnel to be courteous in performing screening instructions. We develop a questionnaire where all travelers subject to secondary inspection fill up to enable our immigration officer to determine whether these travelers belong to the vulnerable group to trafficking category using the existing guidelines," he said.

Which travelers

Lacierda said that prior to departure, a Filipino will be checked for his passport, a visa if required and a round-trip ticket.

A secondary inspection only happens "when deemed necessary for the purpose of protecting vulnerable the victims of human trafficking and legal recruitment and other related offense through the assessment of following circumstances."

"The circumstances are laid down in the guidelines itself; and when you are subject to secondary inspection, you are ask to accomplish a Bureau of Immigration border controlled questionnaire to be furnished by the Immigration officer," Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the following travelers are subject to secondary inspection:

traveler without financial capacity to travel who is escorted /accompanied by a foreigner who is not related;

minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without a required travel clearance from the DSWD;

repatriated, irregular workers in which case travel may not be allowed without clearance;

partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart, to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the Commission on Filipinos Overseas guidelines and counseling certificates;

passenger traveling to countries with existing deployment bans, alert levels and travel advisories and those in possession for visa to the said countries;

passengers who stayed abroad for one year during the previous departure from the country as tourist/temporary visitor intending to depart for the second and/ or subsequent time.