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DOJ suspends ‘stricter’ outbound travel rules

MANILA, Philippines, September 3 ------ The Department of Justice (DOJ) has suspended the implementation of the revised guidelines on departure formalities following concerns by lawmakers and travelers over the supposed overreach on the right to travel.

In a statement, the DOJ and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) acknowledged the apprehensions on the revised guidelines, but maintained that these were meant to strike a balance between national security and the facilitation of smooth and efficient travel. “The Department of Justice acknowledges the vital role of our senators as representatives of the people, entrusted with safeguarding the rights and welfare of our citizens. It is our duty to address their concerns and provide them with the necessary information and clarifications,” the DOJ said, reaffirming its “dedication to upholding the rights and welfare of all individuals, including the right to travel freely.”

The revised guidelines drew flak shortly after being made public last week. They were supposed to be enforced beginning Sept. 3. The suspension’s effect on airport departure formalities remains unclear as both the DOJ and IACAT insist that the revised guidelines are not new. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said last week that the revised guidelines merely lay out the requirements that have been asked of the travelers in airports since 2015. Remulla said there was “nothing new” about the guidelines.

Some senators took exception, saying there must be ways to protect Filipinos from human trafficking without hampering their right to travel as guaranteed under the Constitution. “The primary objective of the revised guidelines was to streamline the departure procedures, ensure a more efficient and secure process for all individuals traveling abroad. The revisions were not intended to burden the general public, but rather to enhance the overall experience of departing passengers,” the DOJ said.

The agency reminded Filipinos that the suspension of implementation of the revised guidelines on departure formalities does not affect existing laws and regulations governing travel and immigration procedures. It said all existing rules and guidelines remain in place until further notice. Following the DOJ’s order of suspension, Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco directed all airport personnel not to implement the 2023 Revised Guidelines on Departure Formalities. Tansingco said the bureau respects the resolution of the Senate to suspend the implementation of guidelines. He said the agency is working with other members of the IACAT to address any concern or clarification that the public may raise. Tansingco said the IACAT sees this as an opportunity to highlight the realities of human trafficking. He said the IACAT welcomes discussions on how the government can combat human trafficking.

In a statement, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said the primary objective of the guidelines is to streamline departure procedures to ensure a more efficient and secure process for departing Filipinos. The BI said the new guidelines do not impose added requirements to regular departing tourists, and are meant to categorize departing Filipinos and list documentary requirements prior to departure. It said that regular tourists are not required additional documentation apart from their passports, visas if needed in the country of destination, round trip tickets, boarding passes. Those undergoing secondary inspection comprising one percent of the total number of departing Filipinos may be required to show additional documents if deemed to have red flags or mismatch in their documents and purpose of travel. “The same guidelines have been in effect since 2012, and revised in 2015, and the same metrics are being used by our immigration officers until present,” Tansingco said.

Despite the suspension, the Senate will push through with its probe on the IACAT’s revised guidelines against human trafficking, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday. In a press briefing, Zubiri said the DOJ and IACAT should come up with guidelines against human trafficking without violating travelers’ data privacy rights. He said that his fellow senators welcomed the suspension. Zubiri said the stricter guidelines violate Filipinos’ right to travel and freedom of movement. He said the stricter immigration process is also prone to corruption, noting that the screening of outbound passengers happen behind closed doors.

Citing figures from the BI, Zubiri said there are 32,404 Filipinos who were offloaded in 2022, even as only one percent of the figure was charged with human trafficking. Zubiri said he supported the call of his colleague, Sen. Francis Escudero, who said that the BI should shoulder the expenses of offloaded passengers. “The others are victims of this reprehensible system which oppresses our Filipino travelers,” said Zubiri, who mulled seeking a temporary restraining order against the stricter travel rules. He said the Senate would invite offloaded passengers to the inquiry, to give them an opportunity to express their grievances against the unfair immigration rules. “We will put it in a free open hearing, where those who were burdened by the guidelines can share their experiences, how they were offloaded and how they felt about that. Hopefully, we can conduct the hearing next week, The government should show efficient service and service with a heart. Our job is to be compassionate and make their lives easier, not to burden or subject them to power-tripping,” Zubiri said.

Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the public services committee set to conduct the probe, said the suspension averted what she described as “chaos in the airports” with possible missed flights and boarding delays due to the cumbersome requirements. “We are one in our goal to give ease and security to legitimate travelers while making it hard for wrongdoers to victimize the public,” Poe said.



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