The rank-and-file of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Friday got back at Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for allegedly peddling lies and misinformation on the issue of the non-payment of their overtime pay, which had led to passenger queues in the immigration counters of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in the past several days.
In a joint statement, the BI workers’ union Buklod and Immigration Officers Association of the Philippines (IOAP) asked Diokno to be truthful in his statements, saying he did not only distort facts but have also further demoralized the bureau’s employees.
“Contrary to Secretary Diokno’s assertion that immigration officers are job order [contractual]employees who could easily be replaced, they are actually permanent employees occupying plantilla positions and who enjoy security of tenure protection under our civil service laws,” they said.
The two groups also downplayed Diokno’s claim that some 200 soldiers are already being trained to replace immigration officers who resigned or have gone on leave, noting that there is no concerted or deliberate effort by immigration officers at the airports to go on mass leave or resign en masse to pressure the government to lift the presidential veto on the use of the express lane fund (ELF) to pay for their overtime.
“There is no deliberate or organized effort by our members to paralyze our operations and inconvenience the traveling public. If by coincidence our members are absent or are on sick leaves at the same time, these are forced and caused by their inability to shoulder their expenses in going to work, not because they wanted to abandon their duties,” the groups said.
An immigration officer’s job, according to them, is “very sensitive and critical.”
“You just don’t put somebody in the airport immigration booth and tell him to stamp every traveler who presents himself for inspection. Otherwise, our national security will be compromised. We are not called gatekeepers for nothing,” the statement said.
It added that immigration officers hired by the bureau actually undergo rigid screening and training on immigration laws, rules and procedures for four to six months at a training academy in Clark, Pampanga before they are deployed to the airports and seaports.
“Many of our young recruits are cream of the crop who hail from some of the best schools in the country,” the statement said.
The two groups said applicants for immigration officer must have a four-year college degree, possess professional civil service eligibility and pass difficult oral and written tests before being hired.
The BI workers also described as not feasible the Budget department’s offer of 900 new plantilla positions that will purportedly address manpower lack in the bureau.
They said opening new vacant positions is not the solution as it will not address the main problem of the low salaries of BI personnel.
Earlier, Diokno said past presidents tried to correct the allegedly corrupt system on the continued use of ELF but were all unsuccessful because “they were blackmailed by these BI employees.”
Diokno added that the Duterte administration would not allow itself to be taken hostage by such manipulation, citing as an example the air controllers strike in the United States during the time of the then-President Ronald Reagan.
“You must remember that during the time of [President] Ronald Reagan some 11,345 air controllers threatened to strike. Reagan called their threat, [and]until now it’s still a third party that runs air control in the US,” he said.
The Budget chief belied claims of low salaries, saying some of the immigration employees received as much as P96,000 per month plus 13th and 14th month pays.
On non-payment of overtime pay, Diokno said P235 million has been appropriated in the General Appropriations Act for the purpose but the BI made no request for overtime payment.