The lack of immigration officers is causing long lines — but there’s more to it than that.
At this point, the more well-traveled among us should be used to how often delays happen in local airports. But Philippine Airlines made the rounds a few days ago when they advised those travelling overseas for Holy Week to show up 4-5 hours before their flight to prepare for longer airport lines. Those long lines are caused by a variety of factors, but let’s focus specifically on one: a lack of immigration officers (IO).
What exactly the reason is for insufficient staff at the immigration counters is a subject of debate. On one hand, a simple reason is being overworked. Holy Week is peak season for IO’s, which means leaves due to either sickness or exhaustion will increase. But another reason for understaffing may have something to do with a decision the Duterte administration made, which was the veto of the Special Provision of the Express Lane Fund (ELF), in which the ELF is directly spent to pay for the overtime of Bureau of Immigration (BI) workers. This applies especially to contractual and job order employees.
For the President of the Immigration Officers Association of the Philippines (IOAP), ER German, Robin, this decision is a significant factor in explaining the plight of IO’s. “The ELF is the only/ultimate source of salary augmentation in the form of overtime for BI regular/organic employees and compensation of contractual employees.”
According to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno however, it is “unfair for the rest of bureaucracy” that IO’s had been leaning on the ELF as their source for overtime pay, stating that all government official and employees require a standardized compensation scheme, in terms of being paid for overtime work.
The Duterte administration’s decision to veto the ELF has resulted in the BI having a harder time paying its regular and contractual workers. It seems to be an act of protest, 32 immigration personnel have resigned, and BI workers have filed for leaves of absence, in response to the budget cuts.
Long story short: BI workers and immigration officers are having a crappy time because they haven’t been treated well as workers. The inconveniences that come out of that betray the lack of a proper system that properly compensates them. You kinda have to arrive 4-5 hours before your flight in the same way, for example, you kinda have to tip your waiter at a restaurant and you’re an a-hole if you don’t. You can look at it as an inconvenience, but that’s only because the workers you’re interacting with don’t have it as good as you think they do.
Whatever solution the government or the IOAP comes up with though, it better come soon. Robin paints a vivid picture of what an immigration officer goes through on the regular: “We appeal to the public to hear our side. The duty of an IO is challenging. Once we are deployed to international airports, seaports and border crossing stations, we have to report 24/7, no holidays. Even during calamities and disasters, we have to keep our borders safe. How many Christmases and New years we were not at home but in duty? How many wakes and burials we were absent just to be present in our assignments to ensure efficient operations? We endure all these because we want to provide [a] decent and comfortable living to our families.”
Fair point. So if you’re lining up at the immigration counter these next few days, a bit earlier for your flight than you usually are, don’t be the *ss who just casually groans about the hassle of it all, as if you’re the one being hassled the most.
Header photo by Rudy Santos.