x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Filipino groups split over affidavit of support

Members of Filipino Community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, or FilCom Dubai-NE, failed to reach a decision in the discussions, leaving many frustrated.

DUBAI // Filipino community groups in Dubai and the Northern Emirates failed to reach an agreement last night on whether to call for the scrapping of a disliked travel document.

Members of Filipino Community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, or FilCom Dubai-NE, failed to reach a decision in the discussions, leaving many frustrated.

The "affidavit of support and guarantee" is a document presented by Filipinos on tourist visas to airport immigration officers in the Philippines. It is supposed to prove that they can afford to visit the UAE and will not seek employment. It was introduced in August last year to impede human trafficking.

"The FilCom represents the community here but we failed to act on it," said Yuri Cipriano, the chairman of Migrante-UAE, one of the umbrella group's members.

Alan Bacason, the president of FilCom Dubai-NE, said although a majority of the groups' leaders voted to scrap the affidavit, they were not enough to constitute a common stand.

"The majority of the members of the governing council decided against making a common stand," he said. "However, we will leave it up to the individual leaders of FilCom to make their own recommendations on the issue."

The FilCom Dubai-NE, which serves as an umbrella organisation for 99 groups, supports the programmes and activities of the Philippine consulate in Dubai. It is this consulate, and the embassy in Abu Dhabi, that receive the Dh100 for attesting the affidavit.

When the document is disregarded in Manila, many travellers end up paying bribes of up to 30,000 Philippine pesos (Dh2,500) to corrupt border control officials to board their flight. Yesterday's meeting centred around the frustration over the affidavit of support with others calling on their government to order the consulate to stop notarising the affidavit. The leaders of 44 groups who serve as the Council of Representatives participated in the forum.

"We are not forcing or encouraging anyone to notarise their affidavit of support and guarantee," said Geronimo Suliguin, the vice-consul at the Philippine consulate in Dubai who attended the gathering. "Our job is to notarise the document. The money that the consulate collects from notarising this document goes to the national treasury."

He added: "As your vice consul, I do not have any personal opinion on the issue. Whatever the position of the FilCom has on the issue and if you refer it to the consulate, we are ready to support you."

Migrante-UAE and nine other Filipino community groups have been calling for the affidavits to be scrapped.

"It's not the Bureau of Immigration that requires the affidavit," Maria Antonette Bucasas-Mangrobang, the spokesperson for the Bureau of Immigration, said on Tuesday. "But passengers resort to it to show the financial capacity to travel. It may be useless but we in the bureau assess all the circumstances of each passenger."

According to a memo sent to the Philippine embassy and consulate in October last year, immigration officers in the Philippines have the discretion to assess the documentation presented by anyone with a temporary visitor or tourist visa. As well as asking for financial documents such as bank statements, officers are allowed to base their judgement on travellers' appearance and demeanour.

"The affidavit violates our constitutional right to travel," said Dennis Bandojo, the president of Lingkod-OFW. "If you think it is useless, we should scrap it."

rruiz@thenational.ae