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Philippines Halts New Travel Rules Amid Public Backlash

by Holly

The Philippines government has suspended its recently revised travel regulations for Filipino citizens traveling abroad following widespread criticism from legislators, business associations, travel agencies, and migrant groups who deemed the new requirements as “coercive, restrictive, and redundant.”

The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) had introduced the draft guidelines in August as part of an intensified campaign against human trafficking. In addition to the standard travel documents, some travelers might have been required to submit notarized documents from their trip sponsors. Critics argued that this would impose additional expenses on relatives abroad who needed to notarize documents at Philippine consulates.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) emphasized that the updated rules aimed to streamline the process by identifying specific categories of travelers subject to secondary inspections at airports. The intention was to avoid the inconvenience and delays caused by the current guidelines, which necessitate numerous document presentations.

BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco stated, “The new guidelines issued by the IACAT would ensure that immigration officers focus on specific requirements and do not demand unnecessary documents that could lead to passenger complaints.” He referred to a viral video in which a tourist missed her flight because she couldn’t present her college yearbook and graduation photo.

Government data revealed that from January to May this year, 39,061 departing travelers underwent secondary inspections, with 13,764 individuals prevented from leaving the country. In the previous year, 32,404 Filipinos were denied boarding, but only 472 were found to be victims of human trafficking or illegal recruitment after investigations.

The release of the IACAT guidelines generated immediate and widespread opposition. Senator Risa Hontiveros warned that these “dysfunctional guidelines will only derail our nation’s anti-trafficking efforts.”

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri emphasized the need to protect citizens without impeding their right to travel. He also expressed concerns about potential “economic profiling” of first-time travelers. Zubiri urged authorities to focus on illegal recruiters rather than imposing burdensome rules on everyone.

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay voiced concerns that these guidelines could be used to target government critics, while Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, former head of BI, feared that corrupt personnel might misuse them to harass and extort travelers.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), a part of IACAT, acknowledged the public outcry, attributing it to miscommunication. The DOJ clarified that the revised guidelines did not introduce new requirements but merely reiterated the specific travel documents outlined in the 2005 rules.

However, this explanation did not halt the Senate’s investigation, prompting IACAT to suspend the implementation of the updated guidelines. The DOJ pledged to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders and reiterated that the rules aimed to balance national security and the facilitation of smooth travel.

Labor group Migrante stressed the importance of focusing on combating human traffickers rather than targeting victims. They urged the government to create decent job opportunities at home to address the issue effectively.

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