AS the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) looks forward to the realization of an Asean Economic Community (AEC) come 2015, the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Bueno Mison finds a “happy problem” in his hands.
With his office, together with the Department of Foreign Affairs, at the forefront of the targeted single-visa scheme among the Asean’s 10 member states, he foresees a boost to the country’s economy and tourism, as well as difficult challenges to hurdle.
In a one-on-one interview with The Sunday Times Magazine this week, Mison elaborated, “The Asean integration for me is a happy problem because it will give us the opportunity in the bureau to really show what we can do in facilitating mobility among the Asean countries. But we also face the reality that we are not yet in the position to process the huge amount of transactions that will come with the changes. As of now, the bureau still needs additional technological infrastructure, equipment, budget and personnel for the single-visa implementation.”
While he has already proposed concrete solutions to overcome the difficulties the bureau will have to hurdle, he nonetheless believes that they already have the most important tools to tackle the impending on head on: the Filipino resiliency and adaptability.
According to Commissioner Mison the Asean single-visa will be used as an entry travel document for non-Asean tourists visiting any of the 10-member states. For instance, a foreigner, who comes to the Philippines will also have the option to visit Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam without the need for separate visas.
Currently, the Philippines, through the DFA, are in close coordination with Asean-member countries in studying the possibility of this unified visa through continuous meetings and workshops to discuss the pros and cons of such a scheme.
Commissioner Mison is also very active in these exchanges.
A former soldier-turned-lawyer, Mison was appointed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd as immigration commissioner on December 21, 2013, two years after he held the post of associate commissioner.
His impressive leadership skills were honed at the US Military Academy at Westpoint where he graduated with a degree in Management 1987. From there, he joined the Philippine Military in counter-insurgency operations and security intelligence, and was assigned to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Retirement and Separation Benefits system.
Mison went all the way to becoming a Major in his military career, and at some point, was lured to pursue Law which he completed at the Ateneo de Manila University. After passing the Bar, he retired from the service and went on to secure a Masters of Law degree from the University of Southern California.
A prolific writer and a respected professor, Mison, in his capacity as chairman of the Bureau of Immigration’s Personnel Selection Board, co-authored the Merit Selection Plan, duly approved by the Civil Service Commission. He also co-authored the Omnibus Rules on Deportation and other Immigration-related Applications.
Moreover, he authored such textbooks as Wills and Succession, Simplified and Explained, widely used by law students and probate practitioners, including 8 Performance Boosters to Conquer Any Law Exam.
A partner of Malcolm Law, Mison is also very generous with his time in preparing new generations of lawyers as professor at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law, and is credited for the establishment of the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of the East to assist indigent clients in Manila.
Mison comes from a proud family of public servants. His father Salvador Mison retired from Armed Forces of the Philippines after 32 years. He also served Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs from 1987 to 1991.
Mison’s mother, Ione Bueno Mison was a schoolteacher, while his older brother, Salvador Mison Jr. is a Brigadier General in the Philippine Air Force.
Clearly dedicated to the betterment of society, Siegfred Bueno Mison tells The Sunday Times Magazine he is grateful for the opportunity to be of service to the nation in his current capacity as head of the Bureau of Immigration, and believes that the post will allow him to realize his dreams for his beloved Philippines.
Sunday Times Magazine: What do you find most challenging as head of the Bureau of Immigration?
Siegfred Bueno Mison: As in any leadership capacity, the challenge is how best to manage your people. We have almost 2,000 employees around the country and almost 800 are assigned in the various airports. When I became the commissioner in 2013, I immediately implemented a series of trainings and seminars to equip our personnel in fulfilling their duties.
STM: How would you describe your management style?
SBM: The moment I took office as commissioner, I shared with the bureau my three working principles: teamwork, “heart-work” and “I-work.” These are the three working principles that I think will help the bureau accomplish our mission of preventing undesirable aliens from entering and staying in our country.
The first principle of teamwork means that we should all be responsible in helping each other towards one direction, and that is towards the ultimate goal of a better Philippines.
You see, we are part of a larger team. What we do in the bureau also affects the work of other government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and the Philippine Coast Guard.
As part of this team, it is clear that the success of one government agency contributes to the success of other government agencies. For instance, the 10- million tourist arrival target set by the DOT for 2016 can be achieved through the collective efforts of all other agencies concerned, particularly including the Bureau of Immigration. Imagine if any of our frontline officers disrespect a tourist; then most likely, such a visitor will not return to the Philippines again, and will probably even tell his friends never to visit our country.
The next work principle is “heart work. Take note, it is not “hard work,” but “heart” as in puso. In order to do your best, it also has to come from within.
The last work principle is “I-Work.” Apple has the iPhone and the iPad, but in this instance, the “I” stands for integrity. Simply put, integrity means doing the right thing even if nobody is watching. I encourage everyone in the bureau to make sure that our co-workers practice integrity in their work. As we pledge every time we recite the Panunumpang Lingkod Bayan: “Hindi ako magiging bahagi at isisiwalat ko ang anumang katiwalian namakaaabot sa aking kaalaman [As we pledge every time we recite the oath of a public servant: "I will never take part and will expose any kind of corruption to the best of my knowledge].”
STM: What is the mission of the bureau?
SBM: The Bureau of Immigration screens foreigners who come to our country and makes sure that the “bad guys”—fugitives, terrorists and the like—are not allowed entry. Secondly, if any foreigner admitted to our country violates any of our laws, we apply existing processes to remove that “bad guy” from our country. In short and simple language, our mission is “Bad guys out, good guys in.”
STM: Can you talk about the necessity of a new immigration law in the Philippines?
SBM: We’re still waiting for the passage of an immigration law that will replace the Commonwealth Act 613, or the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, that was passed during the presidency of Manuel Quezon—a time when issues brought about by today’s highly globalized world were inexistent.
Updating the law is important so we may continue our mandate of delivering the most efficient, innovative and effective immigration service to the people.
With the new immigration law, we will be able to update the system of the bureau to the current needs of the agency. We will also have more visa categories because as of now, there are only 20, and the country will benefit from expanding this.
The most important part of the new immigration law is that the bureau will be given the power to retain some of its revenue. All collections are being remitted as of now to the National Treasury. If a certain portion will someday be retained by the bureau, this can be used for modernization of its facilities and thus better service.
With the implementation of the new immigration law, some of the “happy problems” with the implementation of the single-visa scheme will surely be addressed, and we are hopeful that this will be discussed in the next session of the Congress in time for the bureau’s 75th anniversary in 2015.
STM: How has the bureau functioned under your leadership?
SBM: Currently, the Bureau of Immigration has numerous programs to more strictly enforce our immigration laws.
We have the Alien Registration Program (ARP) that aims to register and map all foreign residents in the country, down to the barangay level. Through this program, the BI shall conduct information gathering and biometrics capturing for foreigners who stay in the country for more than 59 days. The ARP further encourages undocumented aliens to register with the bureau so they can be advised on how to regularize their stay. We ensure all foreigners in the Philippines that neither arrest nor detention will be undertaken on those who will voluntarily register. ARP’s covered duration is from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015.
Another recent project of the bureau is the Sa Immigration Magsumbong Program. Here we encourage people to report illegal aliens through our hotlines (Smart: 0908-8946644; Sun: 0932-8946644; and Globe 0917-5733871). This is very similar to the bayanihan concept of Filipinos, where we all work hand-in-hand in protecting our country from undesirable aliens. A P2,000 reward will be given to the informant upon successful apprehension of overstaying aliens.
STM: If you will be given the chance to change existing systems in immigration, what would you suggest?
SBM: It’s high time for us to consolidate all of the border-related functions into one department level. We should have a Department of Borderlines like what has been done in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia.
It’s a matter of trying to merge all border-control agencies like the Bureau of Customs, Office of Maritime and Bureau of Immigration. Everything that has to do with the border should be in one cabinet department. As of now, it takes a lot of efforts to pass on information and coordinate efforts among these agencies.
With such a consolidation, I believe we will be able to manage border-related issues properly. I already submitted a letter of proposal to the Office of the President regarding this idea, and discussed it with the heads of the said agencies and they are also on board with me. We just need a higher office that will enable us to do this.
STM: What legacy would you want to leave the bureau?
SBM: I hope that in one of the State of the Nation addresses in the next few years, an immigration officer will be extolled as model public servant so as to erase the negative image of our bureau. As my commitment as the temporary father of the bureau, I will do what I can to provide our employees with all the resources for them to have a positive mindset. I believe that if a person is happy with what he is doing, there is no room in his heart and mind to do wrong or evil.
I challenge them to aspire for the day when a friend, their child, their neighbor would ask, “Where do you work,” and they can proudly reply, “I work in the Better Bureau.”
STM: What are your dreams for the Philippines?
SBM: I believe in the greatness of every Filipino and that is why I co-founded the Kabayanihan Foundation Inc., an organization that aims to spread the message that every Filipino can do small things to help the country.
We need each other because no one can do it alone. I dream that one day, our country will be able to regain its past glory and emerge as one of the best countries in the world.