By Stephanie Sevillano

CYBERATTACKS. Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco (left) and spokesperson Dana Sandoval (right) speak at the Manila City Hall Reporters Association’s forum on Tuesday (Oct. 17, 2023). Tansingco assured the public that the bureau could withstand any cyberattack. (PNA photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Tuesday assured the public that its Information Technology (IT) system is secure and can withstand cyberattacks.

BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco made the remark following reports of data breaches or hacking incidents of government sites including the House of Representatives, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

“Tinanong ko agad sa IT natin, anong sitwasyon, kaya ba ng firewalls natin? Kaya ba natin ma-withstand iyong mga ganun? (I asked our IT what’s the situation, are our firewalls capable? Can we withstand such [cyberattacks?]),” he said at the Manila City Hall Reporters’ Association (MACHRA) forum.

“Ang sabi sa akin, kaya, di tayo mapapasok… May mga attempts, pero di nagiging successful (What they told me is that we will not be penetrated… There were attempts, but unsuccessful),” Tansingco added.

The immigration chief recalled that these attempts were reported in the quarterly assessment of the Department of Communications and Information Technology (DICT).

Tansingco said besides the BI’s strong firewall, its system is “unique” compared to other government agencies external accessibility that the BI’s database only operates internally and penetrating such would mean passing through numerous layers of active firewalls.

Holiday passenger influx

Tansingco, meanwhile, said the BI will provide more personnel to cater to the expected influx of passengers at airports as Undas and Christmas holidays near.

“October 28 to November 25, very very very long weekend, magpapadala na ako ng augmentation sa airport simula October 25, wala munang mga vacation leave (I will send augmentation [personnel] to airports from October 25, no vacation leave),” he said.

The same rule will be implemented from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15 for the Christmas and New Year break.

Tansingco said 55 immigration personnel will conclude their training by Oct. 27 and will be immediately deployed. “Organic personnel” will also be fielded as acting immigration officers for the year-end holidays.

Overall, the BI is expecting around 4 million airport arrivals in the country for the last quarter.

Besides the holiday influx, the BI reiterated its commitment to provide full assistance to the Department of Migrant Workers and the Department of Foreign Affairs for the repatriation of Filipinos affected by the Israel conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Modernization efforts

Tansingco also said their secondary inspection personnel will be provided with around 24 body cameras with live streaming, audio, and recording features, as well as servers, and wireless connectivity through cloud. The battery of the units will have at least 9 hours to cover the entire period of duty of immigration personnel.

“We will come up with appropriate regulations na applicable sa (in) primary and secondary [inspection]. Of course basic diyan, hindi pwedeng i-off iyong cameras (the basic rule is cameras cannot be turned off),” Tansingco said.

He said they are also preparing for the pre-procurement of new electronic gates (e-gates).

To date, the only available e-gates in the country’s airports are first-generation e-gates purchased last 2017.

The BI earlier said it targets to replace 50 percent of its manual operation with e-gates to lessen person-to-person contact.

Immigration woes

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval, meanwhile, warned anew against recurring incidents of trafficking as well as schemes involving undesirable aliens in the country.

Sandoval said trafficking victims are typically coerced into love or cryptocurrency scams, experience physical abuse, get no salaries, and are subjected to release payments as high as PHP800,000.

“It’s really frustrating on our end na araw-araw tayong nakakakita ng ganun. Hindi lang ito sa Pilipinas nangyayari (that every day we’re seeing that. This is not only in the Philippines), even other Asian countries,” she said following reports of illegal recruitment schemes.

Tansingco, meanwhile, said: “Ang matagal natin sa Bicutan, may pambili ng ticket, ayaw lang umalis kasi wanted sa kanila. Kasi pag-uwi nila, kulong iyan, iyong iba, bitay (Those who stay longer in Bicutan can purchase their tickets, but they don’t want to because they’re at large. Once they go home, they’ll be barred, others will sentenced to death).”

Since September 2022, the BI has intercepted over a hundred foreigners, with Koreans, Chinese, and Americans considered as the top three nationalities. (PNA)