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MANILA, Philippines – Paying damages to the Filipina traveler who missed her flight due to a lengthy immigration interview is not “within the scope” of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said on Tuesday, March 21.
Weeks since Filipina traveler Cham Tanteras posted a now-viral TikTok video describing her experience with an immigration officer in a December 2022 trip, she now seeks financial damages and accountability from the BI following the way the immigration officer handled her.
“The BI management takes any report or complaint seriously. While damages might not be within the scope of the BI, we may initiate disciplinary action should we find that any officer be remiss of his or her duty,” Sandoval said in a message to Rappler.
In her TikTok, Tanteras said that after answering questions at the immigration counter, the officer informed her that she needed to undergo a secondary interview at a separate room. In the secondary interview, another officer asked more about her purpose of travel to Israel, and what she described as “irrelevant” questions, like if she had her yearbook and graduation photo with her, and the marital status of her parents.
Despite lining up for immigration around 7 am, Tanteras said she missed her 11 am flight due to the lengthy questioning of BI personnel. The missed flight cost her P19,000 for that initial ticket.
She was able to fly out to Israel the next day, December 22, after buying this time a P27,000 ticket.
She has yet to receive compensation for the missed flight and inconvenience experienced. Tanteras said in a CNN Philippines interview on Tuesday that she raised the issue to the Anti-Red Tape Authority, which responded that its lawyers would attend to it.
Sandoval also confirmed in the same CNN Philippines The Source episode on Tuesday that the immigration officer that conducted Tanteras’ secondary interview was relieved from his post and reassigned to a back-end office because of the incident. The officer also denied asking Tanteras for her yearbook.
Sandoval said that an investigation on the incident involving Tanteras was underway and that it was a “priority.”
As of posting, Sandoval has yet to respond why the payment of damages was not under the scope of the BI.
Balancing prevention of trafficking
On Thursday, March 16, the BI issued a public apology regarding the incident.
“We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused the Filipina passenger and other Filipino passengers… The issue of human trafficking and illegal recruitment is real and is happening every day,” the BI said.
Continuing its statement, the BI explained the situation of rising cases of human trafficking involving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were forced to work in cryptocurrency scams in Southeast Asia.
On Tuesday, Sandoval also said that the BI was reviewing its processes to see how to improve the conduct of our secondary inspection.
“We are also initiating re-trainings for our immigration officers and our immigration supervisors to improve on the way that they are handling situations, and handling issues and concerns of the traveling public,” she said in the CNN Philippines interview.
Sandoval added in a separate exchange with Rappler: “While the importance of immigration inspections cannot be discounted, given the high number of trafficking and illegal recruitment victims recently, perhaps we can improve on the manner that that these are conducted. It is important for our officers to be able to communicate and explain clearly to passengers the reasons behind the interview.”
Knowing ‘normal’ questions, behaviors
Sandoval said in the CNN Philippines interview that some of the questions the officer asked were not normal, including asking for a yearbook and the marital status of the passenger’s parents. The marital status question was also “not normal” especially since Tanteras was not a minor.
Immigration officers are also not allowed to get passengers’ mobile phones or gadgets without their consent. Tanteras said that the officer “grabbed” her phone during the interview, but Sandoval said that the security camera footage in the office may not be available anymore to verify if the officer indeed took her phone, since the retention period of the footage is 30 days.
Sandoval also advised passengers to come three hours before their flight. “You don’t need to bring your yearbooks,” she said.
“If you are a legitimate traveler, you are going on a holiday, then there’s no need to worry. There’s no need to worry about immigration inspection because really, what we are looking out for are victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment,” she added.
Tanteras said she understood that the immigration officer was trying to protect her, but still questioned how passengers like her would be protected when they commit actions like this.
“I know that it’s part of their protocols and also, it’s their way of protecting me against human trafficking, scams – we fully understand that. But my question is, to what extent, to our expense? If they have plans to offload us – or in my case, I [wasn’t] offloaded, I just missed my flight. What protection do I have from them?” she said on The Source.
“In this [matter], I went viral. But how about the others? What action plans are they trying to take in changing this process?” she added.
In the cryptocurrency scam trafficking reports tackled in the Senate, victims claimed they slipped through immigration easily by paying personnel up to P20,000. – Rappler.com