x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Immigration corruption reports to be raised with Filipino president

Filipinos in the UAE say immigration staff in Manila are corrupt, demanding cash to allow them to leave the country on tourist visas.

The Philippine vice president, Jejomar Binay, will submit his report on tourists' visits to the Emirates and Kuwait to the president later this month following his visit to the UAE, according to his spokesman, Joey Salgado. Andrew Henderson / The National
The Philippine vice president, Jejomar Binay, will submit his report on tourists' visits to the Emirates and Kuwait to the president later this month following his visit to the UAE, according to his spokesman, Joey Salgado. Andrew Henderson / The National

DUBAI //Allegations of bribery at Manila airport to extort cash from Filipinos bound for the UAE will be included in a report to the Philippine president Benigno Aquino.

Jejomar Binay, the vice president, heard about Filipinos with tourist visas being shaken down for cash before they left their country via Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when he was in the Emirates earlier this month.

He will submit his report on visits to the Emirates and Kuwait to the president later this month, according to his spokesman, Joey Salgado.

"All the concerns raised by the vice president during his visit to the UAE, including allegations of corruption at NAIA, will be brought to the attention of the president," he said.

The alleged irregularities, which one UAE-based human resources managing director described as "disgusting", appear to be a possible negative outcome of a campaign to tackle mistreatment of migrant workers.Since August, immigration officers in the Philippines have been ordered to be on the lookout for suspected victims of human trafficking.

Passengers on tourist visas have responded to the stricter measures by presenting an additional document called an affidavit of support and guarantee to show proof of who is financing their trip.

The final call is up to the immigration officer, who must assess a variety of factors when deciding whether to allow a passenger to depart: the stated purpose of travel, their capacity to pay for the trip - even their appearance and demeanour. It is at this stage, passengers say, where some extortion attempts of up to 20,000 pesos (Dh1,700) have occurred.

Grayson Servinas, 29, a warehouse manager in Dubai, had paid Dh5,200 for tourist visas and airline tickets for his two cousins from Pangasinan, 250km north of Manila. He also sent them an affidavit of support that was notarised by the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

Despite the documents, Sandra Balutabod and Lorna Joaquin were barred from boarding their Cathay Pacific flight on January 17. A week later they returned to the airport, only to be turned down again. Reached in Pangasinan, Ms Balutabod said while at the airport the pair ignored a man who appeared to be trying to extort money from passengers.

"He wasn't wearing a uniform," she said. "We didn't speak to him because we were really dismayed at what happened. The other passengers in our group told us that he was asking for 10,000 to 15,000 pesos."

A 32-year-old Filipino sales executive in Dubai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his girlfriend paid 20,000 pesos. She was stopped at the Manila airport on her way to Dubai last month, carrying a tourist visa and airline ticket that cost Dh3,000 in total. The arrangement was that his girlfriend's relative would meet a contact identified as "Karen" outside the airport with the cash. The relative was to hand over the money to "Karen" after his girlfriend was cleared by immigration. The girlfriend was directed to a specific immigration queue, he alleged.

"The immigration officer said that he had been waiting for her," he said.

Wilma Garcia, a travel agent at Al Hedaya Travel and Tourism in Dubai, said an average of 30 customers a day were being prevented from boarding flights to Dubai despite holding tourist visas processed by the company. "Many of them are complaining," she said. "I've been telling them that it's out of our hands. The decision [to clear a passenger for travel] lies with the immigration authorities in the Philippines."

Yum Habana-Sabala, the managing director of Destiny HR in Dubai, said the extortion had to be "stopped".

"If they can collect 20,000 pesos from 20 people, that would be 400,000 pesos in one day. But that is a conservative estimate, as hundreds of Filipinos are travelling to the UAE every day," she said.

 

rruiz@thenational.ae