No room for rascals in BI

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | April 14,2023 - 08:00 AM

I add my own voice to the uproar against misbehaving Bureau of Immigration (BI) personnel over their attitude and treatment of our countrymen who travel abroad.

Several years back, when I was still single, I booked a package tour to Egypt as a solo traveler. On the day of my flight, I went through and passed the immigration counter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I then went for coffee in one of the restaurants. About 30 minutes before boarding time, I started walking toward my gate so that I could complete the predeparture procedures and be ready for boarding.

It turned out that even beyond the immigration counter that already cleared me, there were still immigration personnel who roamed around the predeparture area, who could additionally question travelers, and who could overturn the clearance already given at the counter. They presumably could prevent passengers from boarding their flights a few minutes before departure time.

Apparently because I was traveling alone, garbed in ordinary t-shirt and jeans, I was profiled as a suspected tourist-pretender headed for an undocumented job abroad. An immigration officer accosted me, and upon learning that I was headed to Egypt, he ordered me to stay put. He then shouted to another colleague: “Pare! May isa pa ditong mag-isa. Papunta daw sa Egypt!” He hollered with a demeaning volume and tone, prompting everyone around to stare at me with suspicion. I was made to feel like a criminal being accosted.

I sensed that I was in danger of being prevented from boarding my plane—and consequently incur losses for canceled flights, hotel bookings, and a tour package—because I was being held for questioning very close to my boarding time. I had been hearing horror stories about travelers being prevented from boarding their flights, even then. I quickly decided that I needed to go on the offensive and brandish my professional license to stave off abusive conduct. Besides, I needed to counter the dishonor committed against me. I shouted in the same volume and tone: “Abogado ako! Anong problema mo??!!” The immigration officer turned meek as he mumbled that he only needed to check my airline ticket and boarding pass. He cursorily went through my documents, said “thank you,” apologized, and then allowed me to go to my gate. I imagined the fate that might have befallen any other passenger who had the same profile as me, but was unfortunate to have no credentials to brandish.

The row between the BI and enraged travelers is the result of errant attitude, defective regulation, and inadequate training in the ranks of BI personnel. The BI must remember that the right to travel is a fundamental right specifically mentioned in and granted by the Constitution to every citizen. The government’s power to regulate this right is only an exception. Being an exception, it is the responsibility of BI personnel to exercise extreme caution and meticulous care so that they will not unnecessarily deprive citizens of their constitutional right.

It may be true that many of our impoverished citizens attempt to leave for unregistered jobs abroad, could end up as victims of trafficking, and become difficult and costly repatriation problems for our government. But this should not be used as excuse to run roughshod on the rights of legitimate travelers, and subject our aspiring overseas foreign workers to humiliating treatment in our airports. It’s also true that BI personnel with wayward behavior are exceptionally few because an overwhelming majority are very professional, as I myself can attest to.

But with the potentially injurious powers that BI personnel are vested with, any abusive and reckless behavior of even a handful of them, deserves to be attributed as a failure of the entire organization. With their ability to summarily prevent passengers from boarding their flights, and consequently inflict considerable financial damage, BI officers exercise far superior powers compared to policemen and judges. Policemen need a warrant of arrest to curtail constitutional rights, while judges need years of full blown trial before they can impose damages against a person.

Immigration officers can wield the power of policemen and judges whimsically, causing instantaneous and irreparable damage to travelers.

With the god like powers vested in its personnel, the immigration bureau must rid its ranks of even just a single scalawag, power tripper, and insensitive rascal.
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TAGS: BI, Bureau of Immigration

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