By Jun Ramirez
Long passenger queues at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will continue to haunt the traveling public during the Holy Week break unless Malacañang acts swiftly on the appeal of Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees for the reinstatement of their overtime (OT) pay.
The overtime pay was slashed under the 2017 general appropriations act as a result of President Duterte’s veto of a provision allowing the BI to use its collection from express lane charges in paying the salaries of its contractual employees and augmenting the salaries of its organic workers who render OT services at the airports and seaports.
“Time is running out. Many of my colleagues have started to look for other jobs. How can you survive with only P14, 000 monthly take home pay. It’s degrading for someone who prides himself at being the country’s gatekeeper,” said a retiring immigration supervisor at the NAIA 3 terminal.
For three months now, immigration officers at the NAIA had to tighten their belts just to report for work but those who could no longer afford that sacrifice have started to absent themselves from duty or have gone on vacation and forced leaves.
Despite a policy prohibiting them from going on leave during holiday breaks, including Holy Week, there are signs that these unmanned immigration counters will continue to be a common sight at the NAIA in the coming days.
It was gathered that for several weeks now, an average of 10 immigration officers have been absent in the terminals of the NAIA on a given day, resulting in long passenger queues that have alarmed not only airport and tourism officials but also authorities in-charge of the nation’s security.
No less than Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre warned that the continued absence of immigration officers could compromise the country’s national security as there will be lesser gatekeepers who will man our ports and thwart the entry of aliens whose presence here is inimical to the public interest.
He said that more than 30 immigration officers had already retired due to withdrawal of OT pay and 50 others had filed six-month leaves of absence.
The BI is one of the attached agencies of the DOJ.
BI employees appealed to the Palace to reinstate their overtime pay pending enactment by Congress of a new Philippine immigration law.
They also cited the important role that immigration officers will play as Manila prepares to host the summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) scheduled at the end of the month.