THEY should not be fighting at a time like this, but they are.
Malacañang and the Bureau of Immigration should take a rain check before going at each other not only because Holy Week, which traditionally demands solemnity and prayer from the Filipino faithful, is fast approaching, but also because this time of year calls for greater vigilance against petty criminals and other more dangerous lawless elements in ports of entry, especially airports across the archipelago.
On Tuesday, the Palace blamed immigration officials for a shortage of immigration personnel at the country’s domestic and international airports that resulted from the bureau’s alleged bungling in failing to hire such manpower as approved by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
That the BI’s employees at present have to work overtime, according to presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, was the price the bureau had to pay for “not acting” on the proposal of the budget department to create additional positions.
Abella sensed defiance on the part of the immigration bureau, noting before reporters that BI officials “choose to stick to their guns about overtime pay.”
He said the queues at the domestic and international airports would have lessened if there were more immigration bureau personnel to go around, and who would put country and service first before compensation.
Meaning, the peace and quiet that all Filipinos hope for as they join fellow Christians in many other countries in remembering the passion and resurrection of the Lord cannot be held hostage by the finger-pointing between the BI and the government.
The feud between the Palace and the BI began in January this year when President Rodrigo Duterte barred the bureau from using funds collected from airport express lanes for overtime pay, a prohibition that immigration officials apparently resented and which led to some of them threatening to quit their jobs.
Abella contended that the creation of new positions would increase the immigration-officer and immigration-assistant positions by 74 percent, augmenting the existing 1,203 bureau personnel.
But, he insisted, the immigration bureau has yet to act on the budget department’s recommendation to hire more personnel.
Evidently wary of the security implications of the alleged inaction on beefing up BI personnel, Abella has chosen to be tactful about the bureau’s shortcomings, saying “people [should]be willing to stand and step aside and… make some accommodations” as “this would be a better thing to do.”
As of late Tuesday, the immigration bureau had not reciprocated the efforts of Abella for Malacañang and the bureau to work out a compromise.
Meanwhile, the presidential spokesman has assured the public that the government is doing its best to serve the convenience of the commuting public, especially with the expected exodus of travelers during Holy Week.
That may sound like cold comfort to Filipinos, many of whom will be going home to visit family, with kids probably in tow, in the provinces, including conflict-torn southern Mindanao.
Abella apparently betrayed his fear by announcing that Malacañang would be open to deploying military men at the airports as a “compromise.”
“You know, if it’s an emergency situation then we should be able to respond in the right way,” he said of unpleasant incidents that could happen in the next two weeks or until the return of the pilgrims to the city.
For the safety of the public, the Duterte administration and the Bureau of Immigration should stop bickering over where the buck stops on the overtime pay issue.
They only have exactly seven days, or one week, to get their act together before something, God forbid, explodes in their faces.