The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is deploying more personnel to Mindanao to curb human trafficking, while the Bureau of Customs (BOC) is tightening border security measures, especially in provincial ports, to boost its collections and prevent smuggling.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Wednesday said he is evaluating the deployment of more immigration officers and intelligence agents to six border crossing stations in Mindanao and Palawan where incidents of human trafficking have been reported.
Meanwhile, during a consultative forum on the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) held at the Bureau of Treasury, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon also on Wednesday said, “There are so many things that we need to put in place so that we can fix the bureau.”
“We are strengthening our border control operations in the South due to reports of the presence of foreign terrorists and that victims of human trafficking were being spirited out of the country via the backdoor with the help of syndicates and illegal recruiters,” Morente said.
He issued the statement upon learning that joint police and naval authorities recently rescued in Tawi-Tawi 33 trafficking victims who were about to leave the country.
The victims, all women, were reportedly rescued in two separate operations conducted a week ago on Turtle Islands and in Sitangkai town.
It was also learned that the operation in Sitangkai resulted in the arrest of two men suspected of being members of the syndicate that recruited the victims.
Police authorities in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, said the women were supposed to board a ship bound for Zamboanga before they are sent to Malaysia and then to their workplaces in Dubai.
The women’s identities were not divulged as the anti-trafficking statute prohibits it.
Morente said the BI personnel have been instructed to coordinate and work closely with personnel of other government agencies involved in border security operations, such as the police maritime group and the Coast Guard and the Navy.
He disclosed that most of the victims are initially transported to Malaysia before proceeding to their final destinations in the Middle East where they were hired to work as maids and other low paying jobs.
The southern backdoor has long been used as departure and entry points of illegal activities, including terrorists, via the Zamboanga port because of its proximity to the country’s borders with Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Zamboanga port is tagged as a major base of operations for human traffickers responsible for smuggling undocumented Filipino workers into Malaysia.
In its bid to improve the BOC’s collection target, Faeldon said, “We have to do our part in border security” in order to help stop smuggling.”
For instance, he added, most of the commodities arriving in the ports of Mindanao come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries.
“Imagine, in the Zamboanga Peninsula alone, in the area of one collection district, there are at least 93 private wharf operations… but they are not registered with the bureau,” Faeldon noted.
“Now in order to grow our collection target, we need to do our part in the border security, if we can’t stop this shipment of commodities, then we have nothing to collect,” he said.
With increased border security, the BOC can collect at least a billion in the port of Zamboanga based on the movement of commodities from foreign vessels instead of P55 million target per year, Faeldon added.
In the crafting of the CMTA IRR, he said, stakeholders and the government must ensure that no one can negotiate or deviate from the mandate of the law.
“So let us put in place a very specific IRR to cover all the manholes because the process of trade facilitation has become very problematic as well,” according to Faeldon.
CMTA or Republic Act 10863 was passed and signed into law in May by then-president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Under the new law, the BOC is required to come up with an improved system on Customs administration and procedures that comply with international standards.
Among the other expected reforms under the CMTA are the full electronic processing of all documents, forms and receipts, along with the streamlining of methods for examination and valuation of imports and exports.