Exit permits for OFWs? You gotta be kidding. That plus anecdotal evidence of all sorts of red tape before one can depart for a job overseas? An outrage! It sounds like something reminiscent of the Cold War when East German citizens would risk life and limb to make a dash across the border for a taste of freedom in what was then West Germany. In a country allied with the West and a self-described “democracy”, stories about Filipinos being cross-examined by immigration agents to determine whether they are “legitimate tourists” sound like they were taken from the plots of B-grade conspiracy movies. No sirree. â€œFreedomâ€, according to some misguided souls is an absolute that applies to every Filipino traveler.
In the average simplistic mind, the intentions of departing law-abiding citizens is none of the business of the government of a “free” society such as the Philippines. After all, what would be the bases applied by immigration officials in allowing one Filipino to board a plane unquestioned and another to be given the 3rd Degree before leaving? Perhaps there is a certain “look” or profile that sets apart the legitimate tourist from the would-be overseas job seeker. Let’s not even go there. The simple fact is (to most simple folk), whether a Filipino departing the Philippines is on his way out to work or holiday is none of the Philippine Government’s business. As such, even whether this person is holding a valid entry visa to her destination country is her problem and her responsibility.
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Indeed, Inquirer.net columnist Rigoberto Tiglao goes further to ask: Are OFW ‘exit permits’ unconstitutional?
Section 6 in [the Philippine] Constitutionâ€™s Bill of Rights says: â€œNeither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.â€
The right is also emphasized by United Nations conventions that we have ratified. The UN Convention on Human Rights of 1948 states: â€œEveryone has the right to leave any country, including his own.â€ The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 says: â€œEveryone shall be free to leave the country, including his own.â€
That migrant workers enjoy the same freedom of movement was also emphasized by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: â€œMigrant workers and members of their families shall be free to leave any state, including their state of origin.â€
But then consider that maybe, to the Philippine Immigration folk, perhaps the hard time given to some departing Filipinos is not all about an overbearing regard for the “well-being” of our traveling compatriots. When one recalls numerous instances of Filipino public funds being used to rescue yet another hapless OFW from his own stupidity or naivety after falling in the hands of a people smuggling syndicate or illegal recruitment agency, one is led to a strong case for screening exiting Filipinos at our airports. In this case it would not be about their welfare but the welfare of our taxes.
Unfortunately, Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David, blew it. Instead of citing that angle to justify harassing departing travelers at Philippine airports, David plays the bleeding-heart card instead, saying: â€œThey should understand that we are doing this to protect our poor countrymen from being victimized by criminal syndicates.â€
That reason does not fly with me and Tiglao is right in invoking the Bill of Rights to cry foul there. But if David had instead pitched this as a cost-avoidance business case, specifically one where costs likely to be incurred in the future to fund repatriation of “victimised” Filipinos overseas will be avoided or minimised by preventing idiots from leaving the country to begin with, then that will likely have the wings to soar over the Bill of Rights. In principle, the ‘well-being’ of exiting travelers becomes the state’s business when these travelers put state funds at unnecessary risk. It becomes an issue of the security of the state’s already meagre financial resources.
The lesson to be learned here is primarily one that Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David should heed:
Lose the see-through emo pretense of being a “caring” Filipino Catholic. Please. Instead, try to come across more as a protector of the interests of the state — our tax money, specifically. That’s what we taxpayers pay people like David for — to protect the interests of the state.
I recall someone once said (or wrote) that many of the country’s problems are at their core communication problems. In this case, it was the way David framed his message. Let’s thank our renowned emo politics for that penchant for doing the Batang Yagit song-and-dance and our lack of an inclination to take a shrewd business perspective to the challenges we face as a society.
Caring for potential “victims” of illegal recruiters and people smugglers makes for good Pinoy telenovelas. But that attitude sucks when it comes to bringing a message across to people who care more about an accounting for what really is in it for us who make up the bigger state.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.