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P1.2B BI MODERNIZATION FUND GETS HOUSE PANEL OK

The consolidated bill just recently approved by the House committee on justice on the makeover of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) aims to put up a P1.2-billion Immigration Trust Fund (ITF) to modernize this agency, touch up its pay scales and further professionalize its officers plus rank and file, according to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte.

Villafuerte said the consolidated bill on the proposed  “Bureau of Immigration Modernization Act” aims to modernize the BI by expanding its organizational structure, sharpening the competencies of its personnel through career advancement programs, cutting red tape by improving data gathering and analysis, and boosting employee morale through a better, more competitive salary structure.”

Villafuerte authored with three other Camarines Sur solons House Bill (HB) No. 274, one of six bills that the House committee on justice had consolidated into one measure for this panel’s approval.

This consolidated bill seeks to empower the bureau to collect immigration fees, fines, and penalties, and to retain a third of all such collections—but not to exceed P1.2 billion—for an ITF to be administered by the proposed three-member Board of Commissioners for the modernization of the agency’s facilities and equipment, payment of employee benefits and further professionalization of its officers and employees, said Villafuerte, who is president of the National Unity Party (NUP).

The proposed Board shall comprise a Commissioner with the rank of Undersecretary and two deputy commissioners each with the rank of Assistant Secretary—all three of them to be appointed by the President.

The House justice panel chaired by Negros Occidental Rep. Juliet Ferrer managed to expedite last month the committee approval of the consolidated bill on the strength of the chamber’s House Rule No. 10 Section 48, which allows the swift passage of measures that were already approved on third and final reading by the chamber in the immediately preceding Congress. 

Villafuerte authored with three other Camarines Sur solons House Bill (HB) No. 274, one of six bills that the House committee on justice had consolidated into one measure for this panel’s approval.

Villafuerte’s HB 274 co-authors are Reps. Miguel Luis Villafuerte and Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata and Bicol Saro Rep. Nicolas Enciso VIII.

HB 274 contains provisions for the establishment of the ITF for the modernization of the bureau’s facilities and equipment, payment of employment benefits, and further professionalization of officers and employees through training, seminars, and other career advancement programs.

During the Commission on Appointments (CA)’s recent deliberations on  President Marcos’ designation of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, the former Cavite congressman had stressed the need for modernizing the BI’s system, partly to effectively track foreign nationals, especially the illegal ones.

When asked about crimes involving aliens during the Sept. 14 hearing by the CA committee on justice and judicial bar council, Remulla was quoted by the media as saying that: ““So it’s really modernizing our system, first of immigration, that if we are able to get the biometric record, we can spare all of these and know and have a database of people who enter our country and their whereabouts.”

Later on, the Commission confirmed in its plenary session Remula’s appointment as justice chief.

This was after the  CA justice panel endorsed Remulla’s appointment for plenary confirmation, as approved by its chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino, based on the motion of Villafuerte, who is the majority leader of this bicameral panel that screens presidential appointees.

It also proposes transportation benefits, dislocation allowance, hazard pay amounting to 25% of basic salary to qualified employees as may be determined by the BI Board, and longevity pay based on guidelines to be issued by the Board and subject to the approval of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary.

In HB 274, Villafuerte and his three co-authors pointed out that,  “Commonwealth Act 613 or the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 is one of our antiquated laws that need to be amended in order to respond to the changing times and be true to the Constitutional mandate of serving and protecting the people.”

They said that “With modernization and increased mobility of people across the globe, crimes are likewise becoming more and more cross-border. Recent years show that many aliens in the Philippines have been involved in such international crimes as drug and human trafficking, prostitution, terrorism, illegal recruitment and even financial crimes. Accordingly, Commonwealth Act 613 should be amended to meet the new challenges of immigration and migration.”

Villafuerte and his HB 274 co-authors pointed out that the BI is “the chief repository of all immigration records and our frontline in regulating the movement of persons to and from the country,” and that “national security and public safety are at stake in the performance of this critical role.”

“Accordingly,” they added, “the bill proposes to modernize the Bureau of Immigration by expanding its organizational structure, upgrade its personnel by sharpening their competencies, cut red tape by improving data gathering and analysis, and boost morale by improving its salary structure to make it more competitive.”

HB 274 aims to modernize BI structures and mechanisms necessary for the administration of immigration laws, “in keeping with the changing demands of the country’s role in the global community.”

It also seeks “to professionalize the immigration service by instituting a rigid system of screening and selection of immigration officials and employees and promoting their development.”

The bill proposed to empower the BI to handle all concerns pertaining to deportation; revocation of immigration status; re-acquisition and retention of Philippine citizenship under Republic Act (RA) 9225, otherwise known as the “Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003;” issuance and revocation of all visas and permits; declaration of indigence or state of poverty of aliens subject to deportation; and legalization of residence in accordance with the law.

It also wants to clothe the Bureau with powers to cite offenders and punish them for contempt, in relation to the discharge of its quasi-judicial functions in accordance with the Rules of Court.

HB 214 proposes that the BI grant its employees additional benefits such as healthcare services through an accredited Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) for its regular workers,  accident insurance policies for all employees, night-shift differential and overtime pay for actual work rendered.

It also proposes transportation benefits, dislocation allowance, hazard pay amounting to 25% of basic salary to qualified employees as may be determined by the BI Board, and longevity pay based on guidelines to be issued by the Board and subject to the approval of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary.

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