By Wilnard Bacelonia

Senator Francis Escudero (PNA file photo by Wilnard Bacelonia)

MANILA – A lawmaker expressed confidence that the bicameral conference committee tackling the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), will accept the provision inserted by the Senate that will allow reimbursement of Filipino passengers who were offloaded from their flights due to lengthy interrogation by immigration officers in the guise of fighting human trafficking.

Escudero, who proposed the special provision in the 2024 budget of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) during the budget deliberations at the Senate, said it is only appropriate that the government pay back the more than 32,000 affected passengers in 2022 who were not able to board their flights.

Besides, he pointed out that the proposed payment will not need more budgetary requirement since the money will be charged against the BI’s earnings from collections.

Buo ang paniniwala ko na tatanggapin ito sa bicam dahil ang ginalaw ko lamang na pondo ay iyong 10 percent na nakokolekta ng Bureau of Immigration na hindi naman nila nagagamit at binabalik naman nila kada taon sa National Treasury (My expectation is firm that bicam will accept this because the fund will be coming from the 10 percent of the Bureau of Immigration’s collections which is just being returned to National Treasury every year),” Escudero said.

He also assured that immigration officers’ overtime pay and other expenses will not be affected in his proposal.

According to BI records, a total of 32,404 Filipino passengers were not allowed to proceed with their flights last year, of which 472 were found to be victims of human trafficking or illegal recruitment.

Liwanagin ko lang, ito ay retroactive provision. Lahat ng mga na-offload sa nagdaang panahon, pwedeng mag-claim. Nasa sa BI na iyan kung ano ang ire-require nila sa mga pasahero (To be clear, this is a retroactive provision. All those who were offloaded in the past can claim. It is up to the BI on what they will require the passengers,” Escudero said.

He suggested that the Department of Justice and the BI should produce a document that will serve as a policy guideline or check list in screening outbound Filipino passengers to protect them from human trafficking.

He also expressed hope that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. will not veto the said provision since the allocation amounting to PHP200 million is but a small fragment of the government’s PHP5.7-trillion budget next year. (PNA)