Just a few days ago, a Filipina posted on Facebook about her experience being offloaded from her June 17 flight to Singapore. She reports that she was made to wait for 1.5 hours for her interview with an Immigration official and that she was eventually offloaded for not being able to present her grandfather’s birth certificate. As of June 25, 2015, 12:01 AM, her post has been Liked by 9,907 people and shared 11,258 times.
Now, Immigration officers aren’t exactly my favorite people in the world and offloading is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Well, okay, it is, but only on my worst enemies. Heh.)
That said, before we join the bandwagon and question the ludicrousness of having to bring your dead grandfather’s birth certificate just to board an international flight, I think it’s worth examining the situation more closely.
Let’s get two points out of the way first:
- We only know the side of the offloaded passenger. (Let’s refer to her as Ms. dela Cruz, though her complete name and her Facebook name are obvious enough in her post, which she made Public.) As people are never likely to divulge their own shortcomings when ranting, it would be nice if we also heard the side of the IO, just to have a more complete understanding of what happened. (See 26 June update below for the BI’s subsequent explanation.) Details that we don’t know — that might have proved to be important — include:
- Is this Ms. dela Cruz’s first time to go out of the country?
- Is this her first time to go to Singapore? (Her Facebook page states that she lives in “Bedok, Singapore.”)
- How long was she going to stay in Singapore?
- What was her itinerary?
- Does she have a job here in the Philippines? (Her Facebook page states that she works in “Pbcom Tower.”)
- Did she have proof of financial capacity? Or was her relative going to support her stay? If it’s the latter, was her relative able to provide her with the Affidavit of Support & Guaranty and was it duly authenticated by the Philippine embassy in Singapore?
At any rate, here’s a screenshot of Ms. dela Cruz’s Facebook post — please just click to enlarge it (it’s rather long).
From Ms. JA de la Cruz’s Facebook page (Public post)
- Second, I definitely agree that she shouldn’t have been made to wait for an hour and a half for secondary inspection, especially as her boarding time was nearing.
The most important point, though — and the one that we should be most concerned about, since we don’t want the same thing to happen to us — is the fact that she was offloaded.
Apparently, Ms. dela Cruz was going to be staying with a relative in Singapore. She doesn’t mention in her post how exactly she was related to her host, but she says that the IO asked for “PROOF LANG NA KAPAMILYA KO DAW YUNG TITIRHAN KO” (proof that the person she will be staying with is a relative). She says she gave the IO a copy of her relative’s passport, invitation letter, Singapore ID and Philippine ID. However, the IO asked for proof that she was truly related to her host “KASI MASYADO NA DAW COMMON YUNG DELA CRUZ” (because dela Cruz is a common family name) — that is, it’s possible that they just have the same family names but aren’t truly related.
It was at this point that the IO apparently asked for Ms. dela Cruz’s grandfather’s birth certificate.
According to Ms. dela Cruz, “ANG SABI KO NAMAN, PAG BINIGYAN BA KITA NG BIRTHCERTIFICATE NG LOLO KO NAKALAGAY BA DUN NA GODDAUGHTER NYA KO?” (“I said, if I give you my grandfather’s birth certificate, will it show that I’m his goddaughter?”) This actually confuses me a bit — is “goddaughter” a typo, and she actually meant “granddaughter,” or did she mean that she was her host’s goddaughter, and if it’s the latter, are they really related? Either way, to cut the long story short, Ms. dela Cruz apparently could not present proof that she was related to the person she will be staying with in Singapore, and so she was offloaded.
As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that Ms. dela Cruz made another attempt to fly to Singapore on June 19, and she was offloaded again, though she didn’t elaborate why.
From Ms. JA dela Cruz’s Facebook page (Public post)
Why would someone need her grandfather’s birth certificate to fly abroad?
Ms. dela Cruz needed to present proof that she was related to the person she was going to stay with in Singapore. I suspect that the grandfather’s birth certificate was only mentioned as an example of a document that would prove the relationship — say, if she was going to be staying with an aunt, birth certificates would be a way to trace the family tree. If the IO did not explain that, then that’s quite an omission on her part, and Ms. dela Cruz is justified in complaining — though it wouldn’t change the fact that Ms. dela Cruz wasn’t able to prove her relationship to her would-be host. (I think it’s worth pointing out that the IO was right — dela Cruz is a common family name. In fact, the name Juan dela Cruz is our equivalent of John Doe.)
Why is it the Bureau of Immigration’s business whether one is related to one’s host?
According to the BI website, “a traveler will be subjected to a secondary inspection, when deemed necessary, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable victims of human trafficking, illegal recruitment and other related offenses. As such, Immigration Officers (IOs) are allowed to propound clarificatory questions relating to any documents presented or the purpose of travel. Based on answers provided, the traveler will be given a list of additional requirements to support his alleged purpose of travel.”
There have been thousands of cases of people going to other countries as “tourists” only to stay there as illegal workers. This month alone, the BI was able to catch strangers pretending to be friends going on a tour and women pretending to be missionaries, all of them on their way to undocumented jobs abroad as domestic helpers. Mary Jane Veloso flew to Kuala Lumpur as a “tourist” with a “friend” and $500 cash, and look where that got her.
Basically, Immigration officers have seen it all. So when a young girl traveling alone to Singapore says that she will be staying with a relative, but she can’t give definitive proof that she is indeed related to her host, I can imagine that would raise alarm bells for the Immigration officer.
Again, let me emphasize that I am not defending the Bureau of Immigration — I am just trying to put myself in their shoes. It’s a flawed system, and a lot of innocent people get trapped in the net along with the guilty ones, but since Immigration officers don’t have veritaserum or lie detectors, they have to rely on, well, less reliable methods like instinct and experience. That’s why it’s so important for travelers to prepare their documents.
What can we learn from this?
The lesson here is NOT that we should bring our dead grandfathers’ birth certificates when we travel.
What we should bring is proof that whatever we’re going to say to the Immigration officer is true.
If you’re flying to another country soon, here are some articles that might help:
What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration
Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs
I can’t stress this enough — it’s really better to over-prepare than to under-prepare. OA na kung OA, ‘wag lang ma-offload.
Update 26 June 2015: The Bureau of Immigration’s Response
According to the Inquirer, BI spokesperson Elaine Tan spoke to them in a phone interview and said that the IO asked Ms. dela Cruz to provide “the marriage certificate of her father and marriage certificate of her father’s cousin in Singapore whom Dela Cruz was going to visit” because “she was assessed to be financially incapable to travel in the secondary inspection.” Tan said, “Hindi rin po na-establish ‘yung employment niya. So based on the totality of circumstances, she is likely to be a victim of human trafficking. High risk po.” I don’t totally understand it — Is the person in Singapore only her father’s cousin by marriage? Or is the cousin married to a Singapore national which would explain her residency in Singapore? — but, still, the lesson here is to provide proof of your claims.
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