The Senate on Wednesday adopted two resolutions against the new guidelines released by IACAT (Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking) on Departure Formalities for International-Bound Filipino Passengers.
The guidelines, which require all Filipino outbound travelers to undergo immigration inspection and present basic travel documents such as a valid passport, boarding pass, appropriate visa, and confirmed return or roundtrip ticket, will go into effect on September 3.
The senators approved an unnumbered resolution urging the inter-agency council to suspend and review the new guidelines, and another unnumbered resolution authorizing Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to file a temporary restraining order (TRO) before the Supreme Court (SC) if necessary.
In a privilege speech, Zubiri said traveling is a right mandated by the 1987 Constitution.
“There has to be a way to protect our people without also hampering their right to travel. This is a constitutional right…It’s under Article III, Section 6 of our Constitution,” Zubiri said in mixed English and Filipino.
“The constitution is not recommendatory, Mr. President, it is mandatory. As may be provided by law, that is correct, to add to that. But I don’t recall, in our 25 years as a legislator, that we passed a law asking the people to submit their graduation certificate and their yearbook at the airport,” he added.
Under the new guidelines, Immigration officers are also mandated to interview the passenger about their purpose for travel and ask for relevant clarifying questions and additional supporting documents.
The Department of Justice said that the guidelines aim to address “emergent trends in human trafficking” and claimed that they will not hamper Filipinos’ right to travel, nor impose additional requirements.
However, Zubiri criticized the new IACAT guidelines by comparing it to the rules of North Korea.
“Parang North Korea lamang po, Mr. President, ang hindi pumapayag sa kanilang mga kababayan na mag-travel,” the Senate President quipped.
He pointed out that the government must strengthen its measures against illegal recruiters as “this is where the exploitation starts.”
Zubiri’s speech was backed by several senators including Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the matter, and Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III who said the guidelines are “on its face unconstitutional.”
Since the matter is urgent and the implementation of the guidelines is expected to take effect before the Senate can start its investigation into the issue, Pimentel suggested the chamber authorize Zubiri to talk to the IACAT and suspend the imposition.
Following Pimentel’s idea, Zubiri suggested passing a resolution instead asking the IACAT to suspend and review their guideline pending the investigation of the Senate.
“If we all agree today, maybe today, we can pass a resolution asking them to suspend and review their IACAT guidelines pending the investigation,” he said.
Zubiri also urged his colleagues to rally behind him in case the circumstances would prompt him to file a TRO before the high court.
“I’d like to seek the support of the minority and all the members of the majority, if the time comes when–you know there are a lot of agencies [and] sometimes we shout to the highest heavens, hindi nakikinig. If the time will come that we need to file sa Supreme Court a TRO, maybe I can enjoin the members to join me in filing a TRO to that effect so that the Supreme Court can finally declare if it’s constitutional or not,” he said.
“Because I truly feel–I’m not a lawyer, but deep in my heart it is unconstitutional and all the lawyers here. But for the meantime, with the permission of the majority leader we can approve an unnumbered resolution today that will give the sense of the Senate appealing to the head of the IACAT which is under the DOJ to suspend their implementation on September 3 until further study particularly by the Senate, particularly by the committee on justice,” he added.
After the resolution seeking the halting of IACAT rules implementation was adopted, Pimentel still pushed for the inclusion of a provision that authorizes Zubiri to file a TRO before the SC if it is still necessary.
As advised by the Senate secretariat, Zubiri said this suggestion can be written in another unnumbered resolution.
After the discussion, the chamber also adopted the second resolution on the filing of a TRO before the SC.
All senators were made co-authors in the two adopted resolutions.
Meanwhile, Zubiri’s privilege speech was referred to the Senate committee on justice and human rights chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino.
Pimentel urged his fellow senators to provide better ideas to prevent human trafficking.
“In the hearing of this topic in the committee on justice, we can come up with ideas to combat human trafficking na hindi po ganito, parang shotgun approach to the extent that it violates the constitution. Yun lang naman ang reklamo natin e,” he said. — BM, GMA Integrated News