The Bureau of Immigration (BI) is deploying an additional 170 immigration officers to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and other international airports as a remedial measure to address the bureau’s manpower shortage that had resulted in queues before immigration counters.
The additional immigration officers were picked up on Wednesday from the BI main office in Intramuros, Manila and other immigration field offices in various parts of the country.
In a memorandum order, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente directed 150 immigration officers currently assigned at the bureau’s main office and field offices nationwide to immediately report to the NAIA and assist in processing of arriving and departing international travelers.
The 20 other immigration officers, who originally were assigned to BI field offices in Pampanga, Davao, Aklan and Cebu, are to report to the airports in Clark (Pampanga), Davao (Davao City), Kalibo (Aklan) and Mactan (Cebu) to augment the number of BI personnel assigned there.
“With the fielding of these additional immigration officers, we are confident that those queues before our counters will be lessened so as not to inconvenience travelers who are going on vacation here and abroad for the Lenten season and Easter,” Morente said.
The BI chief disclosed that he had ordered the cancelation of all approved leaves of Immigration employees during the month.
Pending applications will also be disapproved, he said.
Morente explained that the deployment to the airports is only temporary and that the affected employees will be recalled to their old units after the Lenten break.
He conceded that the employees’ reassignment will cause a slight slowdown in operations of the offices that they will temporarily vacate.
“I appeal to our rank-and-file to remain patient and focused on their responsibilities as everything is being done to address their financial plight that resulted from the loss of their overtime pay,” Morente said.
“We stand together in this quest for what is due and proper. We must continue to act with professionalism and prudence, strong and confident in the belief that justice will prevail,” he added.
Earlier, Morente and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the latter’s veto of the use of the BI’s express lane collections in paying the overtime services of the bureau’s organic personnel and the salaries of its contractual employees.
They proposed that the overtime pay be temporarily reinstated until Congress enacts a new immigration law that will upgrade the salary scale of BI employees.
Immigration employees also on Wednesday, in a two-page open letter addressed to the President, pleaded for retention of the express lane fund in the bureau to be utilized for their unpaid overtime.
“Our dear President, without your help, about 1,000 of us or 40 percent of our workforce will automatically lose our jobs and will join the unemployed sector of our country. With a meager pay, the rest of us will wallow in poverty,” the letter read.
It said, “Our families will suffer tremendously. We will have very limited resources to pay for our monthly bills and rents. We will face extreme difficulties in providing for the basic needs of our loved ones. Our children may not finish their education.”
According to Red Mariñas, BI Port Operations Division chief at the NAIA, more than 3,000 BI officers are on leave as of February 17 this year, including front liners at the country’s premier airport.
An airport official who requested anonymity said fear of mass resignation of Immigration officers will put the premier airport vulnerable to illegal entry of suspected terrorists who would take advantage of the lack of officers who are experts in profiling undesirable aliens.
Vulnerable to terrorists
The letter senders said, “Our airports, border-crossing stations in the South [Mindanao], field officers and sub-ports nationwide will be undermanned, or worse, unmanned. There will be queues in the airports and other BI offices and our borders will be vulnerable to the terrorists. Because of these dangerous consequences, our national security might be compromised.”
They noted that “the express lane system has been in place for almost 30 years now. It has been the source of ultimate compensation for the bureau’s personnel and only the passage of the new immigration act will answer the deficiencies that the express lane has effectively addressed.”
DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier assured that a total of P224.835 million has been appropriated in Fiscal Year 2017 General Appropriations Act specifically for the overtime pay of BI employees.
Mariñas, however, said the DBM is yet to release the overtime pay and many employees mostly casual ones have opted to resign because they could no longer cover their expenses.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) has already confirmed the legal basis for the utilization and disbursement by the bureau of the express lane fund.
According to the DoJ, since there is a law that specifically exempts the collections for overtime service from provisions of Section 63 of Presidential Decree 1445, the express lane fund may not be remitted to the national treasury.
Meanwhile, passengers of international flights are advised to be at NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at least four to five hours before their respective estimated times of departure because of the lack of immigration personnel manning the BI counters there.
With BENJIE L. VERGARA