I and my wife went to visit Lucky Plaza at Orchard Road in mid-October to do some late-minute bank transactions. For those who are not familiar with the place, it is a ‘popular’ mall among Filipinos situated along the bustling business and shopping avenue in Singapore. Filipino boutiques and stalls are lined-up inside this newly-renovated shopping center. Once you enter the place, you can feel a homy atmosphere because majority of the people speaks Filipino. Even the Singaporean-Chinese and the Singaporean-Indian merchants would greet you simple tagalog phrases such as “Bili na”. Try closing your eyes and you seem to be teleported to Farmer’s Cubao in the Philippines.
As we enter, my attention was caught by a skimpily-dressed Filipina with dyed-blonde hair. She may pass as Chinese cum Spanish mestiza. She had another Filipina companion – a morena who is a little bit shorter than her. They were in a rush as if trying to catch someone. The guy was a 50-ish Caucasian with a large frame coupled with a bulging belly. I could mistake him for a tourist, since most expats at those very hours were wearing coats and ties or office attires. This one was wearing a loose collared polo. The Filipina eye-balled him, smiled and greeted ‘hi’. The white man just went his way.
I already heard stories of Kababayans frequenting the Lucky Plaza; hunting for tourist clients – selling sex. I was not very receptive to that fact until I had seen one. To make it worse, these Filipinos are not work pass holders in Singapore. They are also tourists in Singapore who were granted a 30-day visit pass.
After we completed our transactions, we returned to the adjacent mall where we parked our vehicle. On our way, I again saw the two Filipinas sitting on a bench along the avenue side street, smoking. Facing them is a cafe-slash-beer hub where many white tourists conjoin.
I wondered why these Filipinas had set foot in Singapore when our Bureau of Immigration is so strict in permitting passengers to board their flights. Is there some sort of hullabaloo here where those who legally wanted to travel are off-loaded, while those under the stables of criminal syndicates are allowed to enter the country?
As of present, the Bureau of Immigration is still off-loading passengers to Singapore under the color of authority granted by a memorandum, the Bureau itself issued – MEMORANDUM ORDER RADJR NO.-2011- 011. The memorandum orders its immigration officers to “Offload passengers with fraudulent travel documents, doubtful purpose of travel, including possible victims of human trafficking.”
I have three questions in mind when confronted with this immigration authority issue.
First – Is the Bureau of Immigration indeed mandated by law to offload passengers bound for other countries? Second – Is this provision in Memorandum Order RADJR No. 2011-011 valid? Third – Are abuses in discretion happening as a result of this Order?
The Bureau of Immigration has indeed authority to offload passengers bound for other countries ALBEIT for only very limited reasons, and that is, in its exercise of ministerial duty. And what do we mean by ministerial duty? A ministerial act or duty is a function performed without the use of judgment by the person performing the act or duty. When we say, “without judgment”, the authority acts on what he objectively sees and not on what he personally feels about the situation. To apply, an immigration officer can offload a passenger when he discovers that the passenger has a forged or invalid passport; or when the passenger lacks the necessary documents required by law to travel. This duty is plainly mechanical. How do you determine if a passenger has a forged or invalid passport? His passport could be scanned and his name does not appear in the DFA list. How do you know if someone lacks the necessary documents to travel? Simply because the document or the documents are not with him.
Now, going further into the question of whether the BID is given authority by Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 to offload passengers. A full reading of the law does not provide any provisions giving the BID authority to offload passengers suspected of anti-trafficking. Even the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law does not provide also. So where did the BID get its authority?
I am not saying that the full memorandum [MEMORANDUM ORDER RADJR NO.-2011- 011] issued by the BID is invalid. I only zero-in on the provisions of Section 4(A)(iv). This portion of the memo states – “All TCEU officers and members, in accordance with the AOD organizational structure, shall perform the following duties and functions: During Departures, TCEU officers and members are duty-bound to: Offload passengers with fraudulent travel documents, doubtful purpose of travel, including possible victims of human trafficking.”
My question is, do you exercise ministerial duty when you offload a passenger [with a complete and valid (on-its-face) documents and passport] based on your personal judgment that his purpose of travel is doubtful? I fear not. You are already exercising discretion. You are already putting your own judgment over the sets of standards determined by law. Likewise, when you give authority to offload passenger based on your operatives determination that POSSIBLY the traveling person is a victim of human trafficking, is it a delegation of ministerial duty? No, definitely not. It is already soothsaying.
Every Memorandum issued by any government agency must be pursuant to any mandate made by law. I don’t think this provision in the memorandum is a delegated authority.
Will abuses in discretion manifest as a result of this Order? Yes, definitely it will, and are already happening as of present. There are reports that some BID men ask considerations in exchange for allowing passengers to travel. And some who did not want to pay were offloaded. It is not appropriate to give such authority to this kind of people in government, whose discretion were already questionable at some point in time this year. Remember what happened in the Governor Reyes’ case? Immigration officers were directly involved in his escape.
The Letter of INVITATION
The Letter of Invitation is an offshoot of this so-called authority granted to Immigration Officers. As far as I know, those Filipinos who wanted their relative to come to Singapore must first secure a Letter of Invitation from the Philippine Embassy as it is required by the BID upon exit by the invitee from the country. The authentication of the letter costs S$54.00 or around P1,800 in our currency. This is a big burden to our OFW “Bayanis”. What makes it worse, is that, even armed with the letter of invitation, one is not guaranteed to leave the country. So what does the document stands for?
This is the last part of my article on this issue. I hope this will be given attention and necessary actions made.