Illegal immigration: Very alarming
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2020 - 12:00am

The expose made by Senator Risa Hontiveros put the spotlight on the lucrative business that corrupt Bureau of Immigration personnel are making by allowing Chinese tourists who are in a special “list” to enter the country without having to go through any screening. President Duterte swiftly relieved the Bureau’s officials implicated in the bribery scandal where Chinese nationals could easily enter the country by paying as little as P10,000.

It’s not as if this kind of modus operandi has not been going on for years, but what makes it absolutely alarming are allegations by a whistleblower that about 90 percent of BI personnel are involved in the scheme, with even fugitives given VIP treatment in exchange for amounts ranging from P50,000 to as much as P200,000 per person. Data from the Bureau of Immigration indicates that some 1.8 million Chinese tourists have come to the country in the past few years, with arrivals estimated at 2,000 per day.

Apparently, the system has become even more sophisticated with the use of apps like Viber and other information and communications technology to centralize the operations of the “pastillas” syndicate (so-called because the grease money was initially wrapped in paper used for the milk sweets). By the reckoning of Senator Hontiveros, the pay-offs for years could have been as much as P10 billion. 

What is becoming apparent is that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg, with a great possibility that the bribery scheme is also happening in other airports – not just the NAIA terminals – and ports all over the country. As Senator Hontiveros described it, the Philippines has become virtually “borderless” where everybody can just come in. This is why a sophisticated satellite tracking system covering all our borders is absolutely needed.

Illegal immigration all over the world is on the rise, and countries are snapping up sophisticated systems to protect their borders. The visa upon arrival program is not a good idea either because it becomes easy for tourists to overstay and become illegal immigrants. We need to vet people from their country of origin before issuing a visa. Who knows, we could be welcoming all kinds of criminals or terrorists.

US president Trump is correct in protecting US borders and tightening immigration laws to prevent the influx of illegals. As of 2017 data, an estimated 10.5 million individuals living in the US are undocumented – three times more than the number recorded in 1990. While the US welcomed immigrants during the 1900s – with cultural diversity going a long way in enriching America – things are entirely different today. The US has become the target of all kinds of terrorist extremists, making it necessary to tighten immigration rules to protect American citizens by preventing criminals and terrorists from entering the US. 

While there has been some debate on the correlation between illegal immigration and criminality, a report from Europol – which is the law enforcement agency of the European Union headquartered in the Hague in the Netherlands – showed a “complex, ruthless and multinational migrant-smuggling network” that has developed around Europe’s “unprecedented migration crisis, thus generating billions of euros for criminal groups involved.”

The surge in the number of illegal immigrants has had “a profound impact on Europe’s criminal landscape, with criminal networks substantially increasing their involvement in migrant smuggling. More than 90 percent of the migrants travelling to the EU used facilitation services. In most cases, these services were offered and provided by criminal groups,” the Europol report further noted.

What’s also unfortunate is that many of these illegals end up getting exploited and forced to work under brutal conditions to pay off their large debts with the smugglers.

If a rich and prosperous country like the US has seen it fit to tighten its immigration policies to prevent illegals from entering, then all the more so for a country like the Philippines whose porous maritime borders make it easy for drug traffickers to use the country as a transshipment point for the distribution of illegal drugs, not to mention gun smuggling and other international crimes. A bigger problem is coming from terrorists who are using our borders as gateways or exit points in the conduct of their criminal activities that include smuggling and kidnapping for ransom, especially in the Sulu Sea area.    

Realizing the security implications, the Philippines and Indonesia have agreed to heighten cooperation on maritime security and increase joint maritime border patrols to restrict the movement of terrorists across the porous borders of both nations. In fact, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have been conducting trilateral maritime and air patrol exercises, with a land component recently added to boost efforts in fighting transnational criminal activities, in particular the activities of Islamic State-affiliated extremists operating in the region.

According to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) released in November last year by the Institute of Economics and Peace, the Philippines is No. 9 in the list of 10 countries that are most impacted by terrorism. In fact, the Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that made it in that list.

According to the report, “Terror groups were most active on the southern island of Mindanao with the resurgence of the New People’s Army (NPA) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-affiliated groups. The government’s response to the terrorist threat has been hampered by limited coordination, lack of capacity, and geographical challenges.”  

Filipinos expect more heads to roll in the coming days and rightly so, because these corrupt BI officials and employees are not only undermining our security, but are literally destroying the country.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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