An increase in corruption and airport waiting times can be expected as Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers are hit with brutal pay cuts.
Wage reductions of up to 50 per cent have led to a rash of absenteeism, with 1,759 workers requesting sick leave since the beginning of last month.
In other cases, officers are simply not turning up for work, leading to ever worsening congestion at Manila’s NAIA airport. Furthermore, there have been 26 resignations from January to March this year, compared to only five in the same period last year.
The pay cut follows a decision to scrap a pay-boosting scheme that was implemented in 1988. When the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was BI commissioner, she introduced the express lane service at the NAIA, with profits used to cover overtime and bonuses, helping staff secure wages of up to 50,000 pesos a month.
Because of this scheme, low salary grade workers — who can earn as little as 6,000 pesos per month as basic pay — received decent wages until last December.
However, when President Duterte passed the 2017 national budget, he scrapped the express line fund.
Speaking at the time, he said: “Without a separate substantive law as legal basis, the collected fees from the express lane charges should now be deposited as income to the General Fund.”
It’s for this reason that the BI is struggling with funds and workers are again receiving only basic pay.
Gregorio Sadiasa, chief of the employees’ union BUKLOD-CID, said morale in the bureau was at rock bottom. “We are really demoralised, we no longer have a source for our daily expenses, we cannot afford to send our children to school.”
However, BI spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang denied the bureau was in crisis. “We’re getting by, we’re tying to manage it, the lines get long sometimes but it’s manageable.
“We are encouraging our imigration officers, even Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente went to the airport to ask for their patience.
Mr Morente has now issued an internal memorandum to his employees assuring them action is being taken to address the problem.
“The Secretary of Justice and the Commissioner have been exerting all legal remedy for the restoration of over time pay from the express lane funds.
“Until the issue can be ruled on with finality, only then will we rest the case. For the meantime, I encourage everyone to focus on our job and be patient,” he said.
Until the situation is resolved, it remains to be seen whether lines will continue to grow — or if immigration officers will start to look for alternative sources of funds, such as the infamous planted bullet scam.