Villanueva: Sustain one-strike policy in BI, regular updating of case database to curb human trafficking
Senator Joel Villanueva urged the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to sustain its “one-strike” policy against immigration officers and personnel involved in the trafficking of Filipinos, especially women, to foreign countries.
“It is important that this policy be sustained,” Villanueva told BI Commissioner Jaime Morente during the joint committee hearing of the Senate committees on labor and on women on the trafficking of Filipinas to Syria. “We want them to know they will face the full force of the law.”
In reply to Villanueva, Morente said the policy, which suspends or sanctions BI officers for one offense, is continuing.
He said, however, that the BI has to “seek clearance” from the Department of Justice (DOJ) when suspending or removing immigration officers accused of involvement in irregularities, including the trafficking of Filipino women.
At the same time, Villanueva also sought the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) continue maintaining its mandated anti-trafficking in persons database to help authorities pursue cases against illegal recruiters.
“If we want to prevent human trafficking, we have to make sure that the public is also engaged,” Villanueva said as he urged the IACAT to regularly update its integrated case management system. The database, which was launched in July 2020, is a provision contained in Republic Act No. 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.
"Malaking challenge po sa ating lahat kung ang kasabwat na ang mga matataas na opisyal, at kasabwat halos ang buong environment na pinagtatrabahuhan ng ating mga officers."
At the hearing, women who fell victims to trafficking testified that they were able to get past immigration counters with the help of corrupt immigration men.
Villanueva also said the “biggest challenge” facing the BI in preventing trafficking was the involvement of high-ranking officials in the syndicate.
He said since immigration officers have “discretionary powers” over who to allow to depart or enter the country, they are normally overwhelmed by fear and other factors in deciding to allow entry or departure from the airports.
“Malaking challenge po sa ating lahat kung ang kasabwat na ang mga matataas na opisyal, at kasabwat halos ang buong environment na pinagtatrabahuhan ng ating mga officers,” said Villanueva at the hearing.
He asked BI personnel who attended the hearing whether there was implicit pressure to do “pakikisama” for those officers on new assignments. BI personnel responded in the affirmative.
“Kung ganyan ang kultura, kung ganyan ang norm na nangyayari sa isang loob ahensya, magpapatuloy po iyan kahit ano pang training ang ibigay natin,” Villanueva said. “Ang mahalaga po dito ay ang system modification. Kapag may red flags na nakikita, dapat tukuyin ito agad at aksyonan.”