More than 6,000 passengers have been offloaded from their flights in the first two months of 2023 amid the country’s fight against human trafficking, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) reported.
The BI explained that the affected passengers may have exhibited red flags which the immigration officers might have considered in denying them their right to board their flights, GMA News reported.
The 1987 Constitution guarantees Filipinos the liberty of travel, which shall not be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law. The provision covers the right to travel both within and out of the country.
However, Republic Act (RA) No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking In Persons Act of 2003 allows the BI to set guidelines to curb human trafficking cases.
The BI said immigration officers are on the lookout for three red flags or indicators to identify if the traveler needs further assessment. These are fraudulent documents, confusing information about their destination, or if the passenger exhibited suspicious behavior.
“We have encountered many cases like these that are presenting dummy tickets and are presenting themselves as tourists but the true intention is to really to work abroad,” BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said.
“Kung passenger po halimbawa pumupunta po sa mga bansa na mataas po ‘yung mga repatriation rates and nakita po natin na ‘yung travel patterns nito ay very similar to the travel patterns of the ones that we have intercepted before or mga na-repatriate, then those are considered as red flags,” she added.
(If the passengers go to countries with high repatriation rates or their patterns are very similar to the ones shown by passengers we have intercepted before, then those are considered as red flags.)
An immigration expert, however, said BI officers cannot check or open the traveler’s phone or bag and that secondary inspections should be conducted swiftly.
“Secondary inspection should not exceed 10 minutes unless extraordinary circumstances require,” said Immigration practitioner Robenson Avenida.
Sandoval said they were aware of their limitations and reminded their travel control and enforcement unit of the guidelines.
As for the rights of legitimate passengers who missed their flights because of the secondary inspections, Avenida said: “If the officers have conducted their duty in good faith, hindi talaga pinag-tripan ka o sa tingin niya ide-delay ka niya, may immunity from suit under sa batas na ito. Pero kung mapatunayan na talagang ‘yung tinatawag na may manifest partiality, may bad faith ‘yung officer, puwede nating kasuhan”.
(If the officers have conducted their duty in good faith and have not deliberately delayed the passenger, then they have immunity from suit. But if there’s manifest partiality or bad faith, then they can be sued.)