Filipina who missed flight because of prolonged questioning at immigration hits back at bureau

Screenshots: Cham Tanteras (Tiktok/Instagram)
Screenshots: Cham Tanteras (Tiktok/Instagram)

A Filipina traveler who ended up missing her original flight to Israel and ended up rebooking the next day, after being held back by immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, hit back at the Bureau of Immigration for claiming that their interrogation protocol was part of measures to curb human trafficking.

Cham Tanteras shared a video on TikTok ranting about her experience while on her way to Israel, where she was spending the Christmas holidays alone.

@chamtanteras I missed my flight because of the immigration! #immigration #naia #travelphilippines #travelabroad #israel #palestine #naiaterminal1 #immigrationissues #travelingnomad #traveltips #islandgirl #siargao #islandlife #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – Cham | Siargao Island Life 🌴

Despite arriving at the airport early to give way to the check-in and boarding process, she says she was held up at the immigration counter and was brought to a separate holding office by the immigration officer, who proceeded to ask her for her yearbook and graduation photos. This caused her to miss her flight, which cost PHP19,000 (US$346.20) and book another plane ticket, shelling out another PHP24,000 (US$437.31) the next day.

Tanteras’ story was picked up on national media such as GMA-7’s 24 Oras. In a statement, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said that they had conducted an investigation on the matter and said their stringent screening protocols were to curb human trafficking.

“The management immediately conducted an investigation and asked the immigration officer involved for a full report on the incident. The passenger was eventually allowed after filling out the Border Control Questionnaire and undergoing secondary inspection,” it wrote.

“The issue of human trafficking and illegal recruiting is real and it’s happening. The BI is but one of the numerous agencies of the government tasked to combat human trafficking. The BI seeks consideration and understanding as the agency is constrained to implement strict measures to assess departing passengers.”

Yet Tanteras asserted that this did not answer why she was singled out and why she was asked for requirements such as a yearbook — arguing it would be impractical and highly unlikely for a traveler to bring one.

“[Their statement] still doesn’t answer why I need to bring my yearbook. How is my yearbook connected to human trafficking?” Tanteras said in her video, arguing that this practice was discriminatory against non-college graduates who had the means to travel abroad. “I completely understand [the] issues our country is facing, including human trafficking. And I’m fully aware that the Bureau of Immigration is just one entity in the government that is tasked to protect me, so I know that the questioning [by] immigration is [standard procedure]. But to what extent? Me missing my flight?” She questioned.

Tanteras added that the immigration officer said he had no plans of offloading her from her flight as he knew she had sufficient documents for her travel. “That’s why he was looking for holes in my documents. [So my question is,] why do you have to delay [my travel]?” She asked, adding that the BI’s statement only kept going back to the fact that immigration officers eventually cleared her for travel.

“But Immigration, are you even aware that I missed my flight because of too much questioning, that I was delayed? And who is accountable for that?” she said.

Tanteras answered commenters’ speculations that the officer who held her back was probably waiting for “under-the-table” bribes, to which she said, “I would rather book another flight than to participate in the corruption. I will never feed into the system.”

Tanteras called out the bureau for being defensive in their statement, arguing that they had not offered an apology nor accountability on what happened.

She also hit back at the agency for requesting consideration and understanding but at the travelers’ expense.

The content creator said that she did not want this experience to deter others from traveling, but said that the agency should review their screening protocols so as not to infringe on Filipinos’ right to travel.

“I don’t want this to scare other Filipinos, especially first-time travelers, from traveling,” she said, adding that she believed that this was an isolated incident as her previous solo trips had gone smoothly. “But I don’t want to invalidate this experience as this could happen to other people — and this has already happened to a lot of Filipinos.”

“For me it’s baby steps already. I’m happy to see your comments that I served as your voice and I was standing up for your rights. This isn’t about my [money] anymore; this is on behalf of Filipinos who want to travel abroad because all of us have the right to travel.”

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