Crossing party lines, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling for the suspension and review of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking’s (IACAT) stricter travel guidelines for Filipino travelers.
All members of the Upper Chamber were made co-authors and sponsors of the still unnumbered resolution.
The Senate, likewise, filed a separate unnumbered resolution to be introduced by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, which authorizes Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri to file in behalf of the chamber, a petition or case before the Supreme Court should there be a need to seek court intervention to put a stop to the implementation of the new travel guidelines.
In his privilege speech, Zubiri urged the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and the IACAT to look for better alternatives and more efficient immigration strategies to protect Filipinos without ruining their constitutional right to travel.
“They don’t become victims once they arrive abroad. They become victims as soon as these recruiters prey on them right here on our shores,” Zubiri pointed out.
“Let us not victimize Filipino travelers with inefficiency, Mr. President. There are real perpetrators that we can target here, mainly illegal recruiters and we must go after them instead of burdening everyone else,” the Senate leader stressed.
“We don’t want to discourage our people from flying out, exploring other cultures, and enjoying the hard-earned fruits of their labor,” he pointed out.
“We are one with IACAT, of course, in finding ways to protect our people from being exploited, and finding themselves abroad with no proper employment, and no means of coming back home,” Zubiri said.
Pimentel, for his part, said the IACAT’s stricter guidelines, which is set to take effect on September 3, is “on its face, unconstitutional.”
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who also filed a resolution seeking a review of the new travel rules, cited once again the experience of a Filipino traveler who was unable to board her flight to Israel due to a lengthy interview at the immigration counter and for allegedly being unable to present her yearbook.
Villanueva recalled that that traveler had to shell out P27,000 for a new ticket to rebook her flight.
“There is something wrong with the process and it is only right that we review our programs to ensure that we are truly upholding our sworn duty to protect our people,” Villanueva said in his manifestation.
Villanueva also pointed out that last year’s data from the BI showed that out of the 32,404 Filipinos whose departure was deferred only 472 or 1.46 percent were found to be victims of human trafficking.
“We understand that the IACAT’s intent in the issuance of the guidelines is to mitigate trafficking. But imagine the possibility of offloading 98.54 percent of Filipinos? Hindi po ito (this is not a) ‘margin of error,’” the senator added.
Sen. Pia Cayetano also questioned the necessity of imposing such stringent rules when in reality authorities have been failing to target the real perpetrators of human trafficking.
“Hindi niyo naman nahuli ang (You can’t even catch a) perpetrator. But yes, maybe, maybe you will save a life. But at what expense? And are there not any more effective ways to protect our women, our children?” Cayetano pointed out.
She said the new set of requirements would not only curtail the constitutional rights of every Filipino to travel, but also the opportunity to be reunited with their relatives abroad.
“Are there any more effective ways to protect our women or children? Because let's not be misquoted, every single person here in this hall will agree that we want to protect the most vulnerable. Let us agree that is a good objective... But the manner of implementing this does not seem to be aligned or does not seem to be the most effective way to protect the most vulnerable,” Cayetano stressed.
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., for his part, slammed the IACAT for coming up with an “anti-Filipino” policy: “Filipinos have been enduring the long lines in our airports…Again we ask, for whose benefit do you do these things? And what is really the goal in delaying our kababayans who only wish to travel outside the country?”
“There is no debate that we have to protect Filipinos from human-trafficking. But we must draw the line when the ends no longer justify the means. Our people deserve to be treated better, if not fairly,” Revilla said.