Hontiveros presents more revelations on human trafficking, pastillas scheme in Senate hearing

Marje Pelayo   •   March 17, 2021   •   751

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Risa Hontiveros recently disclosed a revelation from three Filipinas who claimed to be victims of human trafficking and were allowed to proceed to Syria despite the ban.

According to one of the victims named ‘Alice,’ her agent known as ‘Ana’ paid some immigration personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

‘Alice’ claimed agents pay P50,000 pesos for each Filipino to proceed to Syria.

“Sa immigration may binabayaran si Ana na mga tao don. Isa sa sasalubong sa iyo sa gate, iba pa iyong nasa may counter number 1,” Alice narrated.

“Marami akong beses na kasama ng agent ko sa Luneta naroon din po yung immigration para kunin ang bayad,” she added.

‘Alice’ said she was abused by the bodyguard of her employer who happened to be a relative of the Syrian President.

“Five months ko dito nakaranas ako ng pananakit dahil nagpaalam ako na uuwi ako kaya nagalit sila. Sinaktan ako saka yung nung pangalawa, 2020, sinaktan ulit ako dahil nabasa nila yung mga e-mail ko,” Alice said of her experiences in Syria.

“Kinuha nila kasi tumatawag ang Embassy sa kanila na humihingi ako ng tulong. Tinatadyakan yung tagiliran ko, sampal, sabunot, kaladkad,” she added.

In a Tweet, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin lauded Hontiveros’ initiative to help the victims.

“Great job, Risa. We need that. We cannot afford to relax or let any abuse pass because it is too much trouble to fix,” Locsin said.
Locsin said he will ask the Charge D’ Affaires in Damascus to join in the Senate hearing.

Hontiveros said this modern-day slavery should stop as well as the modus operandi inside the Bureau of Immigration (BI) such as this ‘outbound pastillas.’

The controversy on the so-called ‘pastillas scheme’ made headlines last year which exposed some immigration officers getting bribe for letting Chinese nationals into the country without going through proper immigration procedures.

“Katulad ng ginawa namin sa mga naunang nabunyag na mga sindikato at mga krimen na ginagawa sa loob ng BI kasabwat ang travel agents at aalamin namin kung kasabwat ng mga recruiter,” Hontiveros argued.

“Babalik kami kay Commissioner Morente — sir! Kailan niyo ba titigilin ito?” she asked.

For his part, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the agency is in full support of the Senate hearing on human trafficking and corruption in BI.

He assures that those responsible for this issue will be given due action.

“We fully support the investigation of the good Senator Hontiveros and the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality on the trafficking of Filipinas,” Morente said.

“As proven in the past, we will not hesitate to put to justice any immigration personnel implicated in trafficking schemes,” he noted adding that the BI already suspended and charged around 86 immigration personnel for being involved in illegal practices.

In a message to UNTV News, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will coordinate with Hontiveros on the matter and he will activate the Department of Justice (DOJ) Anti Human Trafficking Unit to investigate as well.

In February this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) repatriated 13 Filipinas who were trafficked to Syria. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Immigration chief confident PH reopening to foreign tourists soon

Robie de Guzman   •   November 25, 2021

Bureau of Immigration (BI) chief Jaime Morente on Thursday said they are now preparing for the eventual reopening of Philippine borders to foreign tourists amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While no definite date has been decided for when the Philippines will reopen its doors to foreign tourists, Morente expressed confidence that this will happen “very soon.”

“There are reports circulating that the country has already reopened its borders to international leisure travelers,” Morente said in a statement.

“While we are awaiting the official announcement from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), we have already put in place the needed manpower and facilities in preparation for this,” he added.

Earlier, the BI announced that frontline personnel have been banned from filing vacation leaves during the holiday season.

The bureau also stated that 99 new immigration officers have been recently hired for deployment in the BI’s ports and various offices nationwide.

“We have also resumed the use of our e-gates for arriving Filipinos as it would greatly lessen the processing time for our kababayans who will be returning here for Christmas,” said Morente.

He said the IATF-MEID is still extensively discussing and deliberating on proposals to reopen the Philippines to alien visitors, ironing out many details before its implementation.

“Most probably, those coming from green list countries will be the first ones to be allowed entry,” said Morente.

According to BI Port Operations Division Chief Atty. Carlos Capulong, there are 44 countries that are under the green list, while two— the Faroe Islands and the Netherlands —remain on the red list.

Morente clarified that the country’s travel restrictions are still on status quo as they wait for the IATF-MEID to make the formal announcement.

Immigration bureau prepares for possible influx of passengers during holidays

Robie de Guzman   •   November 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Thursday said it has implemented measures for the possible influx of arriving passengers in the holiday season to avoid another surge in COVID-19 cases.

During a public briefing, BI Spokesperson Dana Sandoval said these measures include prohibiting its frontline workers from filing vacation leaves to maximize their manpower during the holidays.

“Nagkaroon din po tayo ng additional na 99 Immigration officers that are deployed po sa ating mga major airports and seaports para po makatulong sa pagpapabilis po ng pagpuproseso,” she said.

Sandoval also said that the BI has reactivated the electronic gate (e-gate) system, which requires biometric scanning, with strict enforcement of health and sanitation protocols.

“[L]ahat naman po ay in place na, nakalatag na po iyong added manpower natin, iyong technologies natin nakalatag na. So, we can say po that we are ready lalo po dito sa pagdating ng upcoming holiday season,” she said.

“Mayroon din po tayong mga assigned marshals sa mga immigration areas natin who may guide po itong ating mga passengers that are arriving o kaya naman po iyong mga aalis para po sa tamang proseso,” she added.

Proper markings for the implementation of physical distancing are also in place, Sandoval said.

She also said that 75% of the BI’s manpower nationwide has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Karamihan po sa mga iyan ay iyong mga naka-deploy po sa frontline naming,” she said.

“Iyong iba po na mga hindi pa po nababakunahan, iyan po ay ini-expect po natin na makumpleto na natin iyan, by the end of the year. Usually po, ito po iyong mga nag-aantay na lang ng kani-kanilang mga schedule o kaya naman po ay mayroon pa pong medical issues na hindi pa po sila nabibigyan ng clearance for vaccine,” she added.

Sandoval said the bureau is expecting an increase in the number of inbound passengers this holiday season, particularly returning Filipinos and overseas workers.

“Sa figures po natin, iyong first three quarters po ng taon, nakita po natin na malaki ang ibinaba ng arrivals natin, nasa 72% po as compared sa last year. So, ang laki po ng difference from the pre-pandemic period, iyong total po noong pre-pandemic period nasa 17 million po iyan,” she said.

“So, ini-expect po natin na tataas po ito. Ang figures po natin last year ng December, nasa 152,000 perhaps po nasu-surpass po nito iyong total arrivals natin for this coming month,” she added.

Sandoval said the bureau of is also preparing for the possible reopening of Philippine borders to foreign travelers, particularly those who have been fully vaccinated from countries under the “green list” or those tagged as low-risk for COVID-19.

BI personnel reminded of policy vs posting TikTok videos in uniform

Robie de Guzman   •   October 25, 2021

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Monday warned its personnel anew against posting videos of themselves performing acts while in uniform.

In a statement, the BI said that officers assigned at the international airports should strictly comply with the directive banning them from posting videos of themselves dancing or singing while on duty, particularly on video-sharing network service TikTok.

In a memorandum to all BI port personnel, Immigration port operations chief Atty. Carlos Capulong warned that employees defying the ban will face administrative cases for insubordination and misconduct.

Capulong said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente has ordered him to investigate reports that some bureau employees assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) continue to post videos on TikTok which were taken while they were on duty and wearing their official uniform.

“I was instructed by Commissioner Morente to hold these errant employees liable by forwarding their cases to our board of discipline for investigation and filing of the appropriate administrative cases,” he added.

The BI personnel were also reminded to strictly observe the ban on the use of cellular phones and other electronic gadgets while on duty.

Capulong said the TikTok videos of BI employees in uniform could not have been taken if the latter were not on duty at the time, thus it is obvious that they had their mobile phones and gadgets with them.

It was in December last year that Morente first barred BI employees in uniform from posting on TikTok, saying the act denigrates the bureau as an institution and unbecoming of government employees who should always conduct themselves with professionalism and integrity.

“Our policy on the wearing of the BI uniform is clear. As public servants, employees must proudly wear their uniform at all times, present a professional image to the public and observe proper decorum and good taste in all their actions while they are on duty,” Morente said in a memorandum.

He stressed that such acts undermine the BI’s reputation and create a negative image for the agency’s personnel, especially its frontline immigration officers.


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