What does the government do to protect the country’s borders, particularly at the country’s airports? How do authorities address congestion at the country’s main gateway?

The Philippine News Agency (PNA) sat down with Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) Port Operations Division chief Grifton Medina to know what the Duterte administration has achieved for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for the last six months.

First, he said for four consecutive years now, the Philippines remains as the only country in the ASEAN that was given the Tier 1 status by the US Department of State. Tier 1, he said, indicates the highest level of security level in terms of the country’s campaign against human trafficking.

This ranking seeks to stop or prevent vulnerable people from becoming victims abroad, he added. The ranking, he clarified, was for all the of the Philippines’ international airports and not just for NAIA.

As further proof of being strict in terms of security, Medina noted the huge number of offloaded and excluded passengers from January to June alone.

Offloaded refers to those who were not allowed to leave the country as they might be victims of human trafficking. Excluded, meanwhile, refers to foreigners who were not allowed entry to the Philippines, as they presented fake documents, for instance.

A total of 32,950 Filipino departures were referred for secondary inspection from January to June. Of this figure, 16,952 were offloaded.

There were 2,351 excluded passengers. Almost half of them, or 1,129, were Chinese, according to Medina.

He added that there were at least 96 counterfeit and fraudulent documents discovered by the Bureau of Immigration.

“The other excluded passengers had an interpol (international police) hit (in our system),” the official said.

Trainings, info sharing

Immigration officers continue to get training from international agencies, too, to further enhance their skills.

Augmenting the airport’s facilities is also notable. These facilities also aim to address passenger congestion.

Earlier this year, Medina received the Recognition of Excellence from OpenGov Asia, for the e-gates installed in the Philippine airports.

He said the OpenGov Asia is a Singapore-based content platform dedicated to sharing knowledge and information between governments.

Medina added that OpenGov Asia representatives walk around the airports to see improvements, and the e-gates at the Philippine airports were noticed.

“This means they really saw the (remarkable) improvement by having e-gates at our airports. The award is not something one could get from being nominated. There is no nomination for this,” he added.

At present, the Philippines has 21 e-gates to cater to arriving Filipino passengers. Thirteen are at NAIA, three each in Cebu and Clark, and two are in Davao.

About 2 to 3 million passengers have already passed through these e-gates since their installation in November. The e-gates are a huge help to ease congestion, according to Medina.

There are about 2,500 to 3,000 international arriving passengers in NAIA Terminal 3 alone, he added. It only takes 10-15 seconds to pass through an e-gate, compared to the forty five seconds one would spend at a regular counter.

The regular counters, of course, are still essential. There are about 160 newly-hired personnel to man these counters.

Improvement of facilities in other airports are also in place. The BI will soon install high-tech cameras, which could determine a person’s identity even if only his or her eyes are bared.

The gadget can capture an image in about 0.2 seconds, and has 90 percent accuracy, Medina earlier said.

E-gates will soon be installed at NAIA’s departure area. These would primarily cater to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and crew.

Medina said two prototypes of these e-gates would be installed, which means it’s at no cost for the government. These prototypes will serve as tester, so that BI could work on glitches, if any.

“We don’t compromise border security,” Medina said as to why these e-gates would primarily cater to OFWs. The OFWs are the ones who were already pre-screened, he noted.
Heightened security, meanwhile, is being practiced and the Immigration officers are more vigilant, according to Medina.

“We already had a revamp in our key officials as part of our integrity measures. We listen to the suggestions of our stakeholders like the public,” he said.

Soon, the BI will have an advanced passenger information system. This would let the Immigration officers to know the passengers’ profile even while they’re still onboard their flight.

“This system is vital in security issues. Only some countries, like US and Singapore, have this system,” Medina said. (PNA)