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Trafficking watchdog backs clampdown on travel papers

14 April 2016

The country’s anti-human trafficking watchdog has defended the tighter scrutiny of outbound passengers' travel documents by airport immigration officers amid cries of harassment.
Stricter measures taken by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, which includes the Bureau of Immigration, had led to 45 human trafficking convictions in 2015 that sent 46 persons to jail terms ranging from 8 years to life.
Statistics provided by the IACAT showed that the convictions stemmed from 32 cases ranging from acts that promote trafficking to qualified trafficking, offenses that drew sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment and fines ranging from P500,000 to P2 million per conviction.
Cebu City stood out with 11persons convicted, followed by its neighboring city Lapu-Lapu, which accounted for 7.    
Darlene Pajarito, executive director of the IACAT, pledged the agency's full support to the Bureau of Immigration in a statement on Dec 22 as allegations of a new scam involving BI staff at the NAIA circulated in social media.
An online article citing a message from an undisclosed source said immigration staff are requiring outbound passengers other documents to prove their purpose of travel in a new modus operandi to squeeze bribe money from them.
Pajarito belied the article, saying the inspection process used by the BI is based on the Department of Justice Memorandum Circular No. 36 Series of 2015 entitled “Revised Guidelines on Departure Formalities for International-Bound Passengers.”
“These guidelines are based on existing laws that seek to protect Filipinos from possible abuse overseas, thus the BI is mandated to take into consideration the totality of circumstances during inspection,” Pajarito said.
She said the guidelines were put in place to stem the rise in the number of Filipinos using tourist visas to go abroad and work.
The guidelines include the examination of documents by outbound tourists, OFWs, passengers with immigrant or permanent residents’ visa, and other categories of passengers such as on-the-job trainees, au pairs and participants of exchange visitor programs.
Pajarito said immigration officers at airports have also reported intercepting passengers using mutilated passports as well as counterfeit, fraudulent, falsified, simulated or tampered travel documents, such as overseas employment certificates.
“Bypassing the steps required by the government increases the possibility for these individuals of being abused, exploited and trafficked in a foreign country,” Pajarito exlained.

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