A new Immigration Law for Bagong Pilipinas

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be both a boon and bane to the global tourism and travel community. Now that we all have gone back to normal lives, it gave birth to what is now called as “revenge travels.” The Philippines is among the countries of destination to many foreign tourists and travellers in this part of the world. 

In fact, our Bureau of Immigration (BI) has recorded so far five million arrivals as of August this year. These were foreign nationals from around 160 “visa-free” countries who entered the Philippines, Immigration commissioner Norman Tansingco told us during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week.

The BI is the primary border control law enforcement arm of the government tasked to ensure that all foreigners within its territorial jurisdiction meet existing requirements of the Immigration Law. It also acts as chief repository of all immigration records pertaining to entry, temporary travels, admission, residence and departure of all foreigners in the country. 

Tansingco noted with deep concern there has been an alarming increase of sex offenders among the undesirable travellers who have also flocked to our country during the same post-pandemic period. Tansingco fears the latest trends of “borderless travel” across the world have been enabling many of these pedophiles and other child-molesters avoid detection.

Registered sex offenders (RSOs) in their respective countries are also barred entry into the Philippines. An RSO includes a foreigner not only previously convicted of a sex crime in his country but even if he finished serving his sentence, or is out on parole or probation. The United States (US) and the governments in other Western countries also maintain sex offender registry. This allows and facilitates government authorities to trace activities and movements of their RSOs.

Tansingco disclosed the BI has been working out intelligence and data-sharing arrangements with these countries dubbed as “Project Angels” to strengthen the Philippine campaign against child-sex offenders. It was patterned after the “Angels Watch” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the US Homeland Security Department. In our case, the Department of Justice and the BI are among the members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT). 

But unless “red-flagged” or blacklisted by the Interpol, Tansingco explained, the names of these RSOs are not captured in the BI records. Thus, these foreign sex offenders escape detection when they arrived here. The BI though regularly obtains information from its foreign counterparts in the countries that also maintain RSOs, Tansingco assuaged us.         

With the objective of catching up with technology used in airports in other countries, Tansingco cited the BI is developing its own interactive advanced passenger information (API) record or API system and a biometrics capturing system and adding more electronic gates (e-gates) in all international airports and seaports of the Philippines.

However, Tansingco deplored, these RSOs have obviously evolved and adapted with technology in avoiding detection. In a country like the Philippines that lacks modern, sophisticated equipment, Tansingco hopes fervently that the BI could keep up with the advances in other countries in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology-upgraded equipment among the new border control and security apparatus. 

“Everything already is online, from QR code to e-gates, automated processing technology and biometrics,” Tansingco cited. Tansingco revealed the BI has asked Congress to approve its P4-billion proposed budget for next year, which includes P2.5 billion for the modernization project. 

“Unfortunately, we are lagging behind, but we still have time to catch up,” the Immigration chief asserted. 

To do this, the BI chief underscored the urgency to pass into law the proposed New Immigration Modernization Act of the Philippines. House Bill (HB) 8203 was approved on third and final reading in May this year at the House of Representatives. 

Under HB 8203, the BI would be able to keep an Immigration Trust Fund (ITF) of no more than P1.2 billion from its annual income out of collections sourced from fees, fines and penalties. The ITF would fund the BI’s information technology projects, among its modernization plans.

HB 8203 was already transmitted and is pending at the Senate committee on justice chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino.

According to the BI chief, the proposed bill was first filed in the 11th Congress. Unfortunately, the bill never saw the light of day even after repeatedly re-filed over and over again all the way to the 18th Congress. Tansingco firmly believes the new BI Modernization bill will finally be passed into law at the 19th Congress.  

Tansingco worked at BI for nearly a decade – from July 2007 up to January 2017. A lawyer by profession, Tansingco rose through the ranks of BI. He was chief of staff of former Immigration Commissioner and now 4Ps party-list Rep. Marcelino Libanan who is currently the House minority leader. Another former BI chief and is also currently in office in the 19th Congress is Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

It was on Sept. 16 last year when President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. appointed Tan-5 (Tansingco’s code name at the BI) to head the three-man Immigration Bureau. 

For a bit of history, the 57-year-old Tansingco rued that our country’s existing Immigration Act is even much older than him and is known as the Roosevelt Law. This is because the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 was signed by the late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 24,1934. This was sent to the Philippine Senate for approval headed by then Senate president Manuel L. Quezon who subsequently became the country’s President of the Commonwealth in 1935.         

It is now in the hands of PBBM under his Bagong Pilipinas to make both men and machines of the BI to operate under a new Philippine Immigration Law.

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