Is this the end of revenge travel, amid new departure guidelines?
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking recently announced a revised departure protocol for Filipinos traveling abroad to combat human trafficking and this shall be implemented starting Sept 3.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides guarantees to every Filipino, one of which is the liberty to choose where one lives, and freedom of movement. Our constitution states that the liberty of abode and of changing of the same, within the limits prescribed by law, shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired, except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law. (Article III, Section 6)
At the height of the COVID pandemic, we all experienced how limitations could be imposed on our freedom of movement when quarantine regulations were put in place, prohibiting or severely restricting people from leaving their homes.
This was an example of the government’s exercise of its police power.
More than 100 years ago, the Supreme Court of the Philippines noted that liberty, as understood in democracies, is not license. It is regulated by law. Implied in the term is restraint by law for the good of the individual, the greater good, and peace and order of society and general well-being. No one can do exactly as they please.
Whenever and wherever our natural rights would, if exercised without restraint, deprive other citizens of rights which are also and equally natural, such assumed rights must yield to the regulation of law. (Rubi v. Provincial Board of Mindoro, GR L-14078, March 7, 1919)
The police power exercised by the state, while seemingly all-powerful, is not absolute and must conform to the standards and limitations on its use which are:
a. The interests of the public, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require interference
b. The limitations are reasonably necessary
c. The limits imposed contribute to the accomplishment of their purpose
d. The limits are not unduly oppressive upon individuals
Without a doubt, there is a need to protect our kababayans from unscrupulous recruiters and traffickers who lure them with promises of work abroad under false pretenses.
However, are the guidelines and rules “reasonably necessary” and do they effectively accomplish their intended purpose ?
Assuming they are reasonable, necessary, and effective in accomplishing their objective, are these guidelines and rules unduly oppressive upon not only the persons they seek to protect but also the others?
Let’s take a look at some of the provisions of the IACAT guidelines.
The basic travel documents for self-funded travel seem pretty straightforward and consist of the standard information and documents which are:
a. Passport, valid at least six (6) months from the date of departure
b. Appropriate valid visa, whenever required
c. Boarding pass
d. Confirmed return or roundtrip ticket, when necessary
e. Ability to establish the purpose of one’s travel
f. Ability to show financial capacity
For sponsored travels, if the sponsor is a relative within the 1st civil degree, the traveler must present the original birth certificate to prove the relationship with the sponsor, as well as copies of the sponsor’s passport, work permit, and other documentation.
If the sponsor is a relative beyond the 1st civil degree but up to the 4th degree, in addition to the above documents, the traveler will be asked to present an original affidavit of support and guarantee executed by the sponsor who is abroad, which should be notarized, authenticated or apostilled by the Philippine Embassy or Consulate abroad where the sponsor is located.
If the sponsor abroad is not a relative or a non-person but an entity, aside from the foregoing documents, the traveler must present substantial proof of relationship, and the registration papers of the entity.
Note that a “sponsor” is a person or entity that shoulders the airfare, accommodation, and other expenses of the traveler.
For our kababayans who will travel abroad and stay with their relatives rather than book a hotel or other paid accommodation, the rule on sponsors above will apply. As they say, there is a Filipino in every country such that we have no shortage of friends and family who are eager to open their homes to us abroad whether it be in Singapore, Japan, USA, Canada, UK, and Europe.
There are other requirements provided for by the guidelines covering other classes of travelers such as travel by minors, OFWs, minors subject to adoption, students, travelers joining their OFW parent abroad, and the like. It may be reasonable to provide added safeguards for these other classes of travelers, as they may need more protection than the ordinary tourist going abroad for a vacation.
Those who are unable to meet the requirements in the revised guidelines shall be referred by Immigration for secondary inspection, with the possibility of denied or deferred departure.
As a lawyer, I tell you that it is not easy to complete and comply with the other documentary requirements, should you not fall under the self-funded travel category. It will be even harder if you have a sponsor who is not your 1st degree relative and, it might get crazy if you are traveling with or as the “other classes of travelers”.
For those who are not familiar with the authentication or apostille of documents, these are obtained for a fee from the foreign embassy, consulate, or state department by appointment. Depending on the country, getting an appointment can take weeks, not to mention that the sponsor will have to personally appear and bring the documents, i.e. they will have to spend time, money, and perhaps skip work to do this. The documents will then be sent to the Philippines, as the original will have to be presented to immigration upon departure by the traveler.
Moreover, for the requirement of proving even a 1st civil degree of relationship, one may need to obtain certified copies of the birth certificates of themselves, their parents, grandparents, uncles/ aunts and the sponsor itself from the Philippine Statistics Office, all of which will cost money and time. Perhaps it would help if the traveler will prepare in advance an illustration of their family tree.
One can only imagine the number of documents a family of four must bring with them in such a scenario.
Significantly, the sponsor will also need to submit documents such as work permits, residency documents, and proof of citizenship abroad. These are sensitive information which many would be hesitant to provide for fear of them falling into the wrong hands and being used for fraud, scams, or identity theft. At the end of the day, immigration will have all these documents, which begs the question, does the agency have the capacity and logistics to safekeep all this valuable information to prevent third parties from accessing them in accordance with the Data Privacy Act of the Philippines ?
While the new Guidelines may be effective in curbing illegal recruitment and trafficking of persons due to its strictness, would these be considered reasonable and not unduly oppressive to the Filipino traveler?
It pains me to think that we will we soon see long lines of Filipino travelers being made to undergo secondary inspection at our airports and what nationals of other countries will think of us.
On a final note, it is sad that while other countries think of ways to make the process of departure and arrival more efficient for their citizens, we seem to be adding layers and obstacles to the process.
(The author, Atty. John Philip C. Siao, is a practicing lawyer and founding Partner of Tiongco Siao Bello & Associates Law Offices, an Arbitrator of the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission of the Philippines, and teaches law at the De La Salle University Tañada-Diokno School of Law. He may be contacted at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone.)
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