Legarda pushes new law to raise salary of immigration workers
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Loren Legarda on Wednesday, October 3, arranged for a special meeting to expedite the passage of a bill that seeks to address the problem of low pay in the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
Legarda said she will push for a meeting with Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate justice committee, to hold hearings on the passage of Senate Bill No 1556 which she authored. The measure, filed last year, remained at the committee level.
“Let’s urge Senator Gordon – just one hearing. It’s a recurring problem. Until it’s enacted we’ll always have this problem,” Legarda said during the budget hearing of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Senate Bill 1556 or the proposed Philippine Immigration and Registration of Foreign Nationals Act seeks to reorganize and rename the BI to the Commission on Immigration and to upgrade the compensation and benefits of its officials and employees, among other reforms meant to strengthen the agency.
The BI is an attached agency of the DOJ. Of the P21.3-billion proposed budget of the DOJ in 2019, P1.3 billion is proposed to be allotted to the BI.
Low salary has been a pressing problem in the BI, which caused resignations and an internal crisis in 2017.
In 2017, the problem started when Duterte vetoed the special provision of the longtime practice to use the Express Lane Fund (ELF) to augment salaries of employees by way of overtime pay.
Without the overtime pay and other incentives, an immigration officer only takes home P24,000 a month and some as low as P16,000 a month, while lower-ranked staff were only taking home around P13,000.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said that Duterte signed an administrative order guaranteeing the use of ELF but only up to 2018. Morente urged the Senate finance committee to ensure that the special provision will be retained in the 2019 budget.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV backed the call, with Legarda, finance committee chair, in agreement.
"The long term solution we’re looking at is the passing of the immigration bill," Morente said.
The current Immigration Law has not been updated since 1940.
The Commission on Audit (COA) had asked the BI to explain why it stopped collecting express lane fees in 2017, just because they couldn't use the proceeds for salary augmentation then. State auditors want to hold BI answerable for profit losses amounting to P869 million in 2017. – Rappler.com