x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fake travel document warning for Filipinos

The warning comes as the Philippines continues its purge on illegal travel to the Emirates

DUBAI // Filipinos who sponsor relatives to visit the UAE are being urged to be on the lookout for fake documents issued by unscrupulous travel agencies.

The warning comes as the Philippines continues its purge on illegal travel to the Emirates, with increased demands for documentation before Filipinos are allowed to leave the country.

A 26-year-old accounts assistant in Dubai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said an immigration officer in Manila had barred her cousin from leaving the country last week after he presented a notarised affidavit of support that turned out to be fake.

The front page of the affidavit, which had the consulate's red ribbon, bore a forged signature of Geronimo Suliguin Jr, the vice consul at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

"I was really furious when I learnt that my cousin told me that he wasn't allowed to board his flight," she said. "I have no choice but to apply for a new one."

She was not aware that the document was fake before sending it to the Philippines. "I should have checked it beforehand," she said.

She said the travel agency had charged her Dh2,850 for a plane ticket, a tourist visa and for arranging an affidavit of support with the consulate.

"But the travel agency insisted that it wasn't fake," she said. "They claimed that their two other customers were able to fly out of the country."

She has not filed a formal complaint with the consulate in Dubai. "It might just complicate things and I don't want to go through all that hassle," she said.

A careful look at the document shows several apparent discrepancies.

The text on the Philippines crest is misspelt, with "Pilipinas" wrongly spelt as "Philipinas". The vice consul's signature is also distinctly different from that on a genuine version. The document is also printed in a different typeface from a real one.

The consulate charges Dh100 for notarising a document, a process that usually takes 10 working days.

"The matter has been referred to Manila," said Geronimo Suliguin, the vice consul at the consulate. He declined to comment further on the alleged forgery.

The Philippines' immigration bureau has imposed strict departure formalities at Manila's international airport since last August.

Immigration officials have been ordered to watch for suspected victims of human trafficking and stop them from leaving the Philippines.

Travellers have resorted to presenting an affidavit of support, notarised by the consulate or embassy, to show proof that someone else is financing the trip.

Wilma Garcia, a travel agent in Dubai, said the apparent forgery was an isolated problem. Her agency also arranges affidavits for its clients.

"We haven't received any complaints," she said. "This is the first time we've heard about fake documents."