Abu Dhabi: Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay on Monday night challenged Filipino expatriates and tourist visa holders to report allegations of extortion at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to combat human trafficking and eliminate corruption at Philippine airports once and for all.
“We have our own team at the airports complete with police officers  everything. I dare you to report to us any cases of extortion and then and there we will arrest the suspect,” Binay told the Filipino community and members of the media in a public forum held in Abu Dhabi.
Binay, who is also the presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) and chair emeritus of Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), is in the UAE to represent President Benigno Aquino at the World Future Energy Summit. He will also attend the International Water Summit and the Zayed Future Energy Prize Awarding Ceremony.
“We suspended a lot of immigration officials who had been caught extorting money from passengers about four months ago. They had all been replaced,” Binay assured the community after the issue was brought up in the forum.
Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang told Gulf News from Manila that more than 60 per cent of the 264 immigration posts at NAIA Terminal 1 are new hires and the bureau is currently recruiting more. She added that the bureau is serious about cleaning its ranks based on a directive from President Aquino.
“Our policy is that when there is a report against an immigration officer of any action related to either extortion or harassment of passengers, [we] immediately relieve the officer from duty pending administrative investigation,” Mangrobang said, adding that passengers can take a picture of the alleged corrupt officer in the act and send it to the bureau for further action.
In January 2012, IACAT introduced reforms in implementing the screening process of all tourist visa holders, including UAE-bound passengers. The guidelines were set following complaints from passengers of a lack of clear departure formalities, resulting in many passengers being barred from leaving the country. Many others complained about immigration officials asking bribes from passengers just so they could be allowed to board their flights.
“We appreciate the fact that we can now report cases of extortion then and there at the airport. We didn’t know this and this is one good action that would directly benefit OFWs like us,” Matilyn Bagunu, head of the Filipino Community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, told Gulf News.
In the one-hour forum, Binay addressed other issues concerning the welfare, social security, and financial wellbeing of OFWs.
During his official visit, Binay also paid a courtesy call to General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, at the Sea Palace on Monday.
Binay also mentioned that on top of his agenda for his official visit is to look for potential investors in renewable energy in the Philippines, which is the “second largest geothermal power producer in the world, has the highest wind power potential in the region, large potential for solar power, and abundant hydropower and biomass resources” according to a UK Trade and Investment report.