BI modernization bill to create P1.2B fund for digitalization, up skilling of immigration workers

August 6, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 186 views

THE 19th Congress may soon authorize the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to collect immigration fees, fines, and penalties and to retain a third of all such collections—but not to exceed P1.2 billion—for a proposed Immigration Trust Fund (ITF) to modernize this agency, bump up its pay scales and further professionalize its officers and rank-and-file, according to Camarines Sur Rep. and National Unity Party (NUP) president LRay Villafuerte.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr. had asked the Congress to pass the bill on BI modernization along with 16 other measures this second regular session, bringing to 54 the expanded list of 54 priority bills endorsed by the Chief Executive.

Villafuerte said the House had already passed 37 of these priority bills, including House Bill (HB) 8203 that was passed before the seven-month sine die adjournment and that seeks to establish a P1.2-billion ITF for the modernization of the bureau’s facilities and equipment, payment of employment benefits and further professionalization of officers and employees through trainings, seminars and other career advancement programs.

He had co-authored HB 8203 plus 27 others of the 37 priority bills that the House had passed on third and final reading.

Villafuerte said the proposed P1.2-billion ITF shall be administered by the BI Board of Commissioners.

The proposed ITF shall be used exclusively for the modernization of the bureau’s equipment, facilities and offices, including capital outlay for establishing new buildings and field offices; payment of employee benefits as provided by the Board and approved by the Justice Secretary of Justice.

HB 8203 or the proposed “BI Modernization Act” aims “to modernize the BI by broadening its organizational structure, upskilling its personnel through career advancement programs, doing away with red tape by improving data gathering and analysis and boosting employee morale by way of a better, more competitive salary structure,” said Villafuerte, who is a co-author of this law.

To attract qualified staff, the bill proposes a bump up in the salary grades (by two notches) of junior immigration officers, he said.

The employees’ additional benefits shall cover night shift differential and overtime pay, for actual work rendered in accordance with existing rules and regulations.

This bill was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading by a 278-0 vote before the 19th Congress went on its June 3-July 23 recess.

He heads the NUP that is the biggest power bloc in the House next to the ruling party Lakas-CMD, and which was one of the major political parties, which, before the sine die adjournment, reiterated their unqualified support for Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as Speaker and their alliance with Lakas-CMD, and gave their full backing to Mr. Marcos’ legislative agenda for the rest of the 19th Congress until 2025.

Citing Romualdez, Villafuerte said HB 8203, or the proposed “BI Modernization Act,” aims to lead the Bureau into the digital age and has a two-pronged goal of tightening the country’s border security and enhancing travel experience in and out of the country.

The BI is attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and implements local laws on immigration, citizenship and alien admission and registration.

Aside from international airports and seaports, border control checkpoints are to be established and manned, under the bill, by BI officers appointed as border control officers by the bureau commissioner.

The House justice panel chaired by Negros Occidental Rep. Juliet Ferrer had managed to expedite her committee’s 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 CamSur solons HB No. 274, one of six bills that the House committee on justice had consolidated into HB 8203 for plenary approval.

Villafuerte’s HB 274 co-authors are Reps. Miguel Luis Villafuerte and Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata and the Bicol Saro partylist.

Villafuerte 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.

With modernization and increased mobility of people across the globe, he stressed that crimes are becoming more and more cross-border.

Recent years showed, he said, 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.

“Hence, Commonwealth Act 613 needs to be amended to meet the new challenges of immigration and migration,” Villafuerte said.