“Aida”, not her real name, trembled as she recalled her traumatic experience of being "offloaded" at the airport last Nov 2011.
“Nato-trauma nga ako. Pag nagising ako sa hapon o kaya umaga nanginginig ako,” said Aida, who was prevented by Philippine immigration officials from leaving the country because of suspicions she would be working abroad illegally.
Aida was set to fly to Russia, upon the invitation of her sister-in-law who already found work for her. With her plane ticket paid for by her sister-in-law, Aida grabbed the chance to work abroad and earn money to send to her family.
However, her flight was changed three times, until her visa was already nearing its expiration. Aida also wondered about the delays, and the fact that she did not go through the normal process, but her sister-in-law told her not to ask questions.
Adding to her problems was the inconsistency in her travel documents. “Ang visa ko working pero ang invitation letter ko as tourist,” she said.
On the day of her departure, Aida was instructed to wait for a text message from their contact at the immigration section. She was told not yet pay the terminal fee, until the contact tells her to do so.
"May nakasama ako at nakalusot siya. Tapatan ko daw yung number 5 (immigration counter). Sumunod na lang ako kasi iniisip ko yung mga utang ko. Noong nandoon na ako sa airport wala akong presence of mind kasi iniisip ko iba na ito," she said.
Despite all these instructions, Aida was still questioned by the immigration officials in a separate room.
“Ang dami nilang nakapaligid. Hinold na ako doon. Ininterview na ako. Natakot ako,” she recounted.
Although offloaded for her own benefit, Aida said she learned lessons from this humiliating experience: to go through the legal process.
Stricter departure rules
Stricter departure rules
According to Philippine Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) law and investigation division chief Arvin Santos, strict departure formalities have been enforced since last year. Travelers are subjected to basic inspection like checking passports, required visa, and roundtrip ticket.
For workers, the BI has to check if the OFW has an overseas employment contract from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) which is a requirement under the law.
“We recognize na nakaka-inconvenience ito sa mga pasahero at marami ngang nagbabatikos sa policy na ito dahil subject to abuse, discretion lang ng immigration officer o hindi,” Santos said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay ordered the review on the BI policy and wants further measures to reinforce it. Binay, the presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ concerns, is also IACAT’s chairman emeritus.
Earlier this month, recruitment industry leaders have claimed that the BI’s policy of offloading suspected illegal Filipino workers have prompted foreign employers to hire workers from other countries.
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