A STRONGER office has been created under the Bureau of Immigration to prevent illegal activities from passing through the country’s airports.
The Travel Control Enforcement Unit has been already activated at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City and Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Pampanga province north of Metro Manila, replacing the Migration Compliance and Monitoring Group, said Rolando P. Ledesma, the bureau’s officer-in-charge.
In contrast to the former group, Mr. Ledesma said the new unit will have police powers to "catch and charge people who would be caught in trafficking persons."
"There are reports saying there was complicity among Immigration officials at the [old group]. There was a directive issued by the Justice secretary to abolish the group and establish a different unit," Mr. Ledesma said.
The Justice department has supervisory powers over the Immigration bureau.
Jonathan B. Lledo, national chairman of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), said around 20 people from the old group were "repositioned" to the Immigration bureau.
They were replaced by 30 individuals who were distributed to NAIA and DMIA, he added.
The revamp came after Mr. Ledesma, under orders from Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima, revoked the designation of four individuals, including the head of the airport contingent, to NAIA, after the son of Ilocos Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" C. Singson slipped the watch of airport authorities.
Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald V. Singson (1st district) is facing charges of illegal drug trafficking in Hong Kong, a non-bailable crime in the Chinese territory.
He was caught by Immigration authorities last July 11 carrying 26.1 grams of cocaine and two tablets of Valium (diazepam) upon his entry from the country via the Hong Kong International Airport.
Mr. Lledo said an investigation is seeking to establish a possible collusion between Immigration officials and those involved in human trafficking which may explain the security lapse.
"We are looking into the possibility of collusion," said Mr. Lledo, who is also Quezon City assistant prosecutor.
For his part, Mr. Ledesma said: "If it can be proven that officials and personnel have knowledge that Mr. Singson was taking out from the country illegal drugs; if there was any personnel involved by any way of actual knowledge or indirect knowledge, then that Immigration official or personnel shall be charged administratively or criminally."
Last June, a US State Department report placed the Philippines in the Tier 2 watch list, which groups countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The Philippines has been under Tier 2 since 2007, but this was the second straight year it has been on the watch list.
The US could withhold aid worth $250 million if the country is downgraded to Tier 3.