PH Immigration law in dire need of update to stop corruption – BI chief

Robie de Guzman   •   November 11, 2020   •   303

MANILA, Philippines – Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente on Wednesday expressed his belief that the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 is “very old” and is in dire need of updating to solve the alleged corrupt activities in the bureau.

“The Philippine Immigration Act is a very old law, 80 years old to be exact,” Morente said in a statement.

“I have talked to the President and raised this concern to him,” he further stated.

Morente said that since the law was enacted during a time when there were no international flights yet entering and leaving the country, “many of its provisions are already outdated and inappropriate already.”

The BI chief said updating the law would “answer salary woes, remove systemic issues, plug loopholes in policies, update fines and penalties, ensure division of power, and confer to the Commissioner the proper disciplinary powers.”

The proposal to revisit the country’s immigration law was pushed following corruption issues allegedly involving some of the bureau’s personnel.

More than 80 officials and employees of the Immigration bureau are facing investigation and charges before the Office of the Ombudsman over allegations of accepting bribes in exchange for escorting Chinese and other foreign nationals who wish to dodge the immigration screening process in airports.

The scheme was called “pastillas,” named after a local soft milk candy, because the bribe money that some personnel receive are concealed inside rolled up papers resembling the dessert.

According to Morente, they have already implemented measures to address corruption in the bureau.

“The short-term solution is relieve all those found to have been involved in corrupt practices, hence we relieved all names implicated in the Pastillas issue, and implemented a one strike policy for anyone who tries to follow suit,” he said.

“The medium-term solution is reorganizing the system,” he added as he revealed that the supervision of the bureau’s Travel Control and Intelligence Unit and the Border Control and Intelligence Unit have been transferred under a different division to “add layers of checks and balances.”

Morente said the move will “serve as a sort of audit to the actions of those in the Port Operations Division, and dismantles any semblance of a central control of possible illegal activities.”

He, however, stressed that the real and long-term solution is the updating of the Philippine Immigration Act.

“We can remove people again and again, but the loopholes in the law remain. Quick wins may cure some symptoms in the anti- corruption drive but a responsive new Immigration law may yet cure systemic problems that breed corruption,” he said.

The BI chief earlier lamented that under the existing law, he has no disciplinary powers over his personnel, as “the power to hire and fire rests with the Secretary of Justice.”

The Immigration bureau is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

Morente said the proposal to amend the Philippine Immigration law is already in Congress and called for its immediate passage.

“We thank our lawmakers for the support in our move to modernize the bureau so that once and for all we can rid of systemic issues that remain because of outdated policies,” he said.

BI to implement changes in travel restrictions asap

Maris Federez   •   November 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Saturday (Nov. 21) announced that they will be carrying out changes in the country’s travel restrictions effective immediately. 

In a statement released to the media, BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said that with the latest resolution of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the bureau has carried out the expanded coverage of foreign nationals that are allowed to enter the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Effective immediately, treaty traders and treaty investors, or those issued visas pursuant to Section 9(d) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 are allowed to enter the country,” said Morente.

Section 9(d) visa holders are those alien businessmen who are in the country to carry on trade of commerce between the Philippines and the country to which he is a national of, or invest in an enterprise in the country, the statement said.

Also entitled to the same visa are the alien’s spouse and minor children, as well as the alien’s employees, it further said.

It added that other foreigners allowed to enter the country are those with visas issued by the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan, Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, and Clark Development Corporation. —/mbmf

BI warns outbound Filipinos against traffickers amid eased travel restrictions

Marje Pelayo   •   November 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Sunday (November 8) warned Filipinos departing the country to be vigilant against human traffickers who take advantage of the recent easing of travel restrictions.

“We are warning our kababayan not to fall prey to the schemes of these syndicates as they will only put you in harm’s way and expose you to possible abuse,” said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente.

Morente assured that all immigration officers are on guard against these criminals who are preying on innocent Filipinos and sending them illegally abroad.

“Our officers at the airports have been ordered to thwart any attempts by these trafficking syndicates to send their victims abroad in the guise of being tourists,” the BI chief said.  

“We will not allow them to board their flights and they will be sent home,” he added.

Morente said that with the lifting of restrictions on non-essential overseas travel by Filipinos, immigration officers were instructed to be extra vigilant in screening departing passengers and to refer for secondary inspection those with suspicious purposes for going abroad.

Likewise, Filipinos intending to work abroad were cautioned against using fake travel documents and misdeclaring the purpose of their travel.   

“Aside from passports and work visas, departing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) must have an overseas employment certificate (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) which they have to present to our officers at the airport,” he advised traveling Filipinos.

According to Atty. Candy Tan, BI port operations division chief, even prior to the easing of travel restrictions on outbound non-essential travel by Filipinos, BI officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) already intercepted scores of passengers who claimed to be OFWs but were caught with bogus travel papers, including fake visas and OECs and tampered passports.

Commissioner Morente warned that traffickers are taking advantage of the pandemic as many Filipinos are in need of a decent job in this time of crisis. 

“These times of uncertainty could be abused by human traffickers, who will promise greener pastures to our kababayan,” he said. 

“Do not fall for their schemes,” he warned.

PH Immigration to impose one-strike policy vs corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   November 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Thursday said it will implement a one-strike policy against its erring personnel as part of its efforts to fight corruption.

Under the one-strike policy, erring personnel who are the subject of complaints and investigations will be relieved from their posts immediately, the BI said.

The measure comes after several Immigration officials were subjected to investigation over their alleged involvement in the “pastillas” bribery scheme which allegedly takes advantage of Chinese nationals who wish to be escorted to dodge the immigration screening process for a fee.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said he has ordered the BI’s newly-reconstituted Board of Discipline (BOD) to “carefully assess complaints and reports against erring personnel” and to “immediately recommend to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the filing of administrative case” if they find merit.

The BI said that since 2016, one hundred thirty-one (131) personnel have been suspended, dismissed, and dropped from the rolls for various offenses.

“We do not tolerate corruption amongst our ranks,” Morente said.

“In support of the President’s intensified drive against corruption, we have beefed up our Board of Discipline (BOD) to focus on cleaning up the Bureau,” he added.

The BOD is currently headed by lawyer Ronaldo Ledesma, who previously served as the Bureau’s OIC Commissioner and OIC Deputy Commissioner. Five additional lawyers have also been assigned by the DOJ to the BOD.

The BI chief earlier lamented the bureau’s lack of disciplinary powers over its own employees, noting that its set up under the current immigration law is merely recommendatory to the DOJ.

“If administrative control was to be given to the BI, if we find someone involved in improper activities in the morning, we can immediately implement a suspension in the afternoon,” he said.

Morente also urged the public to report any illegal activities to the BI’s hotline +632 86452400 or via its Facebook page.

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