MANILA—Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is set to meet again with other Cabinet secretaries Friday to tackle the mass leave of absence and resignation of immigration officers which caused inconvenience to travelers at the airports.
Aguirre said that though they (secretaries) disagree on several points they have to meet again to come up with a solution to this particular issue now confronting the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
Aguirre said another meeting is set for today (Friday) at Malacanang.
Aguirre earlier vowed to seek the help of other government agencies and bodies to expedite the passage of a new law at the same time institute reforms at the BI to address the exodus of personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) due to non-payment of overtime pay.
According to the justice secretary, an amendment to the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 is needed to adjust the current pay of immigration personnel, most of whom are only receiving PHP14,000 in monthly salary.
Aguirre said the proposal of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. for the meantime is to fast-track the enactment of new BI law.
However, Aguirre admitted that an immediate solution is needed to deal with the issue since the legislative remedy would take time.
Aguirre said Sen. Loren Legarda proposed to support once a proposed measure amending the country’s 77-year-old immigration law reaches the Senate.
The DOJ Secretary said the passage of a new law and other institutional reforms in the BI would address the mass resignations and leaves of absences of immigration officers, which had inconvenienced travelers at the airports.
Last Tuesday, Aguirre proposed the use of funds from airport express lane fees for the overtime pay of BI personnel at the NAIA.
Aguirre said this proposal would help address the matter until an amended immigration law is passed.
However, this was rejected since it would violate Republic Act 10924 or the General Appropriations Act of 2017.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno explained that what the BI employees were asking is against the law since the latter mandates that overtime pay for public sector employees should not exceed 50 percent of their regular salary.
The issue of some BI personnel skipping their work came to the fore after President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a provision in this year’s budget which allowed the use of express lane funds for the overtime pay of immigration employees, saying that it has no legal basis and that the charges should be deposited as income in the General Fund with the National Treasury.
The BI charges express lane fees from foreigners to expedite the processing of their permits.
Earlier, Aguirre expressed concern that the impasse which has resulted to some BI employees skipping work may result not only to long queue at the country’s airports, particularly the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, but also affect the country’s tourism sector as well as efforts to safeguard the borders.
He said 32 BI personnel had already resigned from their posts while 50 others have served notice that they are going on leave for six months to search for new jobs.
The BI is one of the attached agencies of the DOJ.
To alleviate the problem of long queues at NAIA, especially with the expected influx of travelers this Holy Week, Aguirre said BI chief Jaime Morente deployed an additional 170 personnel to man immigration counters at the country’s premiere airport.
Aguirre said Morente also cancelled all the approved leaves of his employees for this month.