Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente expressed dismay over the Commission on Audit’s recommendation to administratively charge immigration employees for not collecting fines from airline companies that carried undocumented foreign passengers amounting to more than P273 million in fines.
According to COA’s 2018 Annual Audit Report, airline companies were allowed to depart without paying their fines, which at year-end accumulated to P273,011,500.00, and recommended that employees be charged administratively for giving airline clearances and for not collecting penalties.
“Section 44 of the Immigration Act states that vessels or aircrafts who brings in improperly documented aliens may be subjected to a fine of P500 for each person brought, and should not be granted clearance until the fine has been settled,” the report said.
The COA said the BI failed to properly implement he Order of Exclusion imposing administrative fines and sanctions as prescribed in Section 44(d) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 which was not strictly monitored.
However, Morente said the outdated immigration law restricts them to collect the P50,000 fine implemented by the late Immigration commissioner Leandro Verceles, because the current immigration law penalizes airlines companies only P500 that brought in improperly documented passengers.
“Section 44 of the Immigration Act states that vessels or aircrafts who brings in improperly documented aliens may be subjected to a fine of P500 for each person brought, and should not be granted clearance until the fine has been settled,” Morente said.
Morente said that the amount was increased in 1999 to P50,000 by Verceles, but its legality was questioned by airline companies, resulting in non-payment of imposed fines.
In 2016, former Department of Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas issued a circular directing the BI revert to charging P500, following a petition from an airline questioning the legality of the 1999 Memorandum, stating that the added fine has “no legal basis”, as the immigration act fixes the amount of the said fine at only P500.
Then Justice Secretary Caparas advised the bureau to instead propose legislation that will amend the present immigration act and adjust the amount of fines imposed on airline companies.
“This is exactly the reason why we’re pushing for a new law,” said Morente. “Our laws are outdated, our fines are outdated, we have no teeth in imposing fines and penalties,” he added.
According to BI Spokesperson Dana Sandoval, they respect the recommendations of COA, but believes that grounding airlines until the penalties are paid may have “drastic economic and tourism effects”.
“Let’s remember that this is a 1940s law, and there were only a few commercial vessels and flights back then. Now, planes and ships come 24/7. If we impose this, it will freeze the entire airline and tourism industry,” she said.
“There has to be balance, we must be able to impose penalties without necessarily harming the tourism industry,” she added.
The BI said that airlines used to pay the administrative fines, until a 2012 Memorandum from then Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas advised airlines to stop paying overtime to immigration personnel.
“This triggered a reaction for them to cease paying administrative fines as well, stating that both charges are cited in the same law. Their logic was if one is stopped, then the other should be stopped as well,” Sandoval said.
“Some airlines wanted to apply the P500 rate retroactively, even before the issuance of the DOJ order. That would put the government at a disadvantage, hence we will seek the opinion of the DOJ regarding this matter,” she said.