MANILA–Despite the mass leave of absence and resignation of immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Saturday that he is still satisfied with the contingency plan of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), especially this coming Holy Week and for arrival of ASEAN delegates to the country.
Aguirre visited Immigration personnel who were on duty at the Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday.
“I wanted to personally see how our NAIA BI personnel are doing and to see their preparations in the light of the expected heavy passenger traffic at our airports during the coming Holy Week”, said Aguirre who was accompanied by Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente and DOJ Undersecretary Erickson H. Balmes, Undersecretary-in-Charge of the BI.
“Based on what I have seen, I believe that BI has all bases covered with their contingent plans. We wish to reassure the arriving and the departing public that we will do our job. To the best of our abilities, our BI personnel will serve the public not only during the Holy Week but also during our upcoming hosting of the ASEAN 2017. We are here to serve and we will serve everyone, professionally and with integrity,” the Justice Secretary added.
Aguirre also conducted a dialogue with the BI Personnel on duty relative to their concerns about their overtime pay.
“I told them that the BI is part of the DOJ Family. As the father of the DOJ Family, I am very much aware of their current circumstances and we are working to address their concerns at the soonest possible time. We talked. They talked and we listened. We are in this together,” Aguirre noted.
“I reminded our BI Employees of their Oath of Office and the duties and responsibilities that comes with it. We are here to serve and we will serve everyone, professionally and with integrity,” he added.
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 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.
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 Php 14,000 in monthly salary.
Aguirre said the proposal of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. for the meantime was to fast-track the enactment of new BI law.
However, Aguirre admitted that an immediate solution was needed to deal with the issue since the legislative remedy would take time.
He 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 was against the law since the latter mandated 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.