Vice President Jejomar C. Binay expressed confidence that the newly-approved guidelines for departure of international-bound passengers by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) will boost the fight against human trafficking.
Binay, who serves as chairman emeritus of the IACAT, also acknowledged the contribution of the “offloading” policy to the decline in cases of human trafficking in the country.
“The offloading policy has contributed to our gains in drive against trafficking, and as a result, our country was elevated to Tier 2 in the US State Department’s Trafficking index. This year, we hope to be elevated to Tier 1,” he said.
The Vice President said IACAT had directed a Technical Working Group to come up with the guidelines to ensure transparency and consistency in the implementation of the offloading policy, and remove any room for the exercise of personal discretion. He stressed, however, that the IACAT will remain alert to the sentiments of travellers, especially OFWs.
“We believe the new guidelines are more comprehensive since the IACAT already has a wider membership, which include non-government organizations. We made a point to incorporate all their inputs,” Binay said.
He further said the government will always respect the right to travel, and that the new guidelines will hopefully balance the right to travel with the intensified campaign against trafficking.
“If there are still complaints stemming from an oversight in the guidelines, we will act and improve on them,” he conveyed.
The new guidelines outline the requirements for the assessment of international-bound passengers based on four categories, namely: tourists; Overseas Filipino Workers; immigrants and permanent residents; and special classes of passengers.
For tourist travellers, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) is authorized to conduct a secondary inspection after the primary inspection “for the purpose of protecting vulnerable victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment and other related offenses, through the assessment of the following circumstances”: age; educational attainment; and financial capability to travel.
Any passenger who will be subjected for secondary inspection will be required to accomplish the BI Border Control Questionnaire.
Travellers will automatically be subjected to secondary inspection if they fall under the following categories:
a. Travelers without financial capacity to travel escorted/accompanied by a foreigner not related.
b. Minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without the required travel clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
c. Repatriated irregular workers in which case, travel may not be allowed without the clearance from the IACAT. (generate data)
d. Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate.
e. Passengers traveling to countries with existing deployment bans, alert levels and travel advisories and those in possession of a visa to the said countries.
f. For passengers intending to depart for the second or more times who stayed abroad for more than one (1) year during its previous departure as a tourist/temporary visitor.
According to the Vice President, the provision on secondary inspection was inserted to prevent Tourist Workers who are the more probable victims of illegal recruitment and trafficking from leaving the country.
In 2011, the government offloaded 512 international-bound passengers, of which 30 were classified as minors, 316 as Tourist Workers and 175 as OFWs with irregularities in their documents.
Tourist Workers are those who attempt to travel for the purpose of gaining employment abroad without proper documentation, attempt to go to countries where the Philippines currently has a deployment or travel ban, or provide spurious travel documents.
The old guidelines provide that a Filipino international traveller shall not be allowed to depart whenever an Immigration officer detects a trafficking situation, which falls under the scope of RA 9208 and other laws such as RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, among others.
In determining whether or not a Filipino traveller is in a trafficking situation, “an assessment of the totality of circumstances and available information during immigration departure formalities is required for the positive identification of a trafficking situation.”
A Filipino traveller will then be “offloaded” based on either of the categories: undocumented; improperly documented; or incompletely documented.