Manila: A move subjecting certain outbound Filipino travellers to tighter immigration checks — and require them to produce additional “travel documents” on top of the mandatory passport, ticket, and an e-travel log before being allowed to board — has been temporarily suspended.
This came as a result of widespread clamour from lawmakers, business, travel industry, and commuter groups to shelve the new guidelines that would have taken effect on Sunday, September 3, 2023.
Manila authorities, through the Department of Justice (DOJ), announced the temporary move, which in effect suspends the new measures they said was specifically aimed to stem human trafficking.
Under the now-scrubbed guidelines, Filipinos going for overseas travel would have had to submit specific documents to demonstrate their "financial capacity" or a reliable source of income, or evidence of employment.
The proposed new guidelines approved by IACAT gives wide leeway, or discretion, to individual immigration officers to demand "travel documents" from outbound Filipino travellers — in addition to ticket, visa, passport.
Following a decision by the Philppine Department of Justice issued August 31, 2023, its implementation has been suspended.
The documents include proof of employment, proof of financial capacity, bank statement, and proof of hotel booking or accommodation — on first-time Overseas Filipino workers or first-time travellers.
In the event that the journey is sponsored by a third party, travelers would have been required to provide a variety of documents, which encompass a work visa and an overseas employment certificate.
Additionally, on top of passport, visa and ticket documentation, they would have been mandated to provide consularised or notarised "affidavits of support and guarantee", as well as the sponsor's registration papers.
Reaction from lawmakers, business group
Given the increased time, effort, and expense associated with obtaining these documents, business and commuter groups suggested that the government should re-consider, postpone its implementation — pending further discussions.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said it was as concerned about human trafficking as the government, but that there “are [intelligent] ways and means” of addressing it “than [burdening] the traveling community.”
An official from the chamber pointed out that Philippine immigration personnel are currently grappling with managing lengthy lines at the airport as a regular occurrence. Therefore, this unwelcome new travel policy is expected to exacerbate the situation.
A commuters group, the Passenger Forum, sought the scrapping of the new travel rules, raising the same concerns over longer immigration queues and the added costs for the average Filipino traveler.
“It’s costly both in time and in money — the affidavits, and all. They are also asking in one of the requirements that certification is needed from the Philippine consulate,” the group’s convener, Primo Morillo, told the Inquirer.
A substantial portion of these requirements appears to be duplicative, with a specific focus on the documentation submitted to embassies of countries that demand visas.
For instance, it is required that children traveling with their parents present a birth certificate. However, it's worth noting that obtaining a passport for a child necessitates the presentation of a birth certificate in the first place. Similarly, the obligation to provide evidence of financial capacity for those already possessing a visa seems redundant, Morillo stated.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, called the latest set of travel guidelines “unconstitutional,” and raised the need for a Senate inquiry into the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, had filed a resolution calling for an inquiry into the latest travel guidelines, citing the "misery" it add to Filipino travelers.
In a statement, the DOJ and the 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 statement said, reaffirming its “dedication to upholding the rights and welfare of all individuals, including the right to travel freely.”
What suspension means
The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration (BI) earlier said the new guidelines do not impose added requirements or documents to majority of travellers, including regular departing tourists, and are meant to better protect the vulnerable sectors, such as first-time Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and first-time travellers.
The suspension would mean that Filipinos traveling overseas do not have to bring additional documents — such as proof of employment, proof of financial capacity, bank statement, and proof of hotel booking or accommodation — before being allowed to board their flight at the country’s major gateways.
On August 18, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) council passed the 2023 Revised IACAT Guidelines on Departure Formalities for Internationally-Bound Filipino Passengers, with the specific aim of addressing the "emergent trends" and the "grave menace" of human trafficking.
The new guidelines, published in the Official Gazette, was supposed to take effect on September 3, 2023, after the window to allow public comments on the new guidelines closed on May 29, 2023.
The new rules were laid down in light of the fact that profile of human trafficking victims is "increasingly characterised by individuals assuming the guise of tourists, ostensibly possessing the means to embark on international travel.”
The country’s travel industry has posted gain, following main quarters of huge losses. In the first quarter, Philippine Airlines reported an operating profit of $135 million. In June, PAL finalised a purchase agreement with Airbus for the firm order of nine A350-1000 long-range aircraft, thus expandung its long-haul capabilities.
Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific said it is firmly en route toward a full recovery in 2023, expecting to restore 100 per cent of its pre-Covid network and capacity, reinstating all its international destinations.