On April 26, 2012 my Filipina girlfriend and I were scheduled to fly to Hong Kong from Clark International Airport. After checking in for the flight and paying our departure taxes we proceeded to the Immigration counter. My girlfriend went to the counter first and provided her passport and round trip ticket documentation for the flight.
A counter Immigration official asked my girlfriend if she was traveling alone. She responded that she was traveling to Hong Kong with her boyfriend. I was asked to join her and once there he began asking further questions to my girlfriend. He asked her, “How many days have you been with your boyfriend? Do we live together? How long have you been living together? Where did you meet? And how many times have the two of us traveled together?”
After my girlfriend answered his questions satisfactorily he stamped and signed her passport, authorizing her for departure. He then asked for my passport which I provided. At this point he still had my girlfriend’s passport so was in possession of both our passports, round trip flight information and boarding passes. While he was processing my passport I asked the immigration officer why he asked my girlfriend so many personal questions. The immigration officer replied that this was standard operating procedure. I said that I understand but was only asking because I am the President of the Clark Investors Locators Association and that I was inquiring as to their policies in regards to complaints from members and locators who have had issues with the Immigration process here at Clark Airport. I asked the immigration officer if it was common practice to ask personal questions to female Filipinos traveling with the proper documentation. This time the immigration officer did not respond, instead he said that my girlfriend was now required to stay for a secondary screening interview and was not allowed to go to the pre-departure area. I was told that I must continue to the pre-departure area and was not allowed to stay or wait with my girlfriend.
My girlfriend was told to sit down at the Immigration area. She was given the Border Control Questionnaire and told that she needed to fill it out. My girlfriend filled out the form to the best of her ability and provided it to one of the Immigration officers. The officer returned the form to my girlfriend and told her that she needed to include the value of the airline ticket on the form. My girlfriend told him that she was not aware of the cost for the ticket because her boyfriend was the one who purchased the ticket. The officer told her to leave it blank if she did not know. He told her to put the date and flight number and then took the form from her. This officer took the form and went into the back office. My girlfriend was then asked to speak with another Immigration officer to go over her questionnaire.
Another immigration officer conducted my girlfriend’s secondary inspection. During this interview and review of the Border Control Questionnaire which she had just filled out, the immigration officer was unprofessional and rude. Specifically in the way he told my girlfriend to sit down at the beginning of the interview and also during the review of the questionnaire when he told her “not to play hardball with him and that she wasn’t going anywhere with that”. The immigration officer was adversarial and aggressive with my girlfriend, purposely trying to intimidate her during the interview. During the interview he asked her about her about her parents and siblings, employment, school, financial situation, civil status, and relationship with me. The immigration officer then as if she was enrolled in school. My girlfriend said she was enrolled at Systems Plus College. He then asked her for a student ID. My girlfriend told him that she did not have an ID because she had just enrolled and her program did not officially start until June. The immigration officer then asked her for papers to prove her enrollment. My girlfriend told him that she didn’t bring her enrollment papers with her because in all of the other times she has travelled with me she has never been asked for further documentation such as proof of enrollment. Later in the interview immigration officer asked her how much money she had on her person. My girlfriend told him that she didn’t have any money on her because she had just paid her Filipino departure tax and airport tax. She also told him that she had her ATM and credit card with her so she did have access to money. She further explained to the immigration office that I, her boyfriend, had several thousand Hong Kong dollars with me. After finishing the interview the immigration officer took my girlfriend’s passport and had another officer make a photocopy of it. The immigration officer then took the copy of her passport and stapled it to the Border Control Questionnaire and then had a conversation with several other Immigration officers nearby. During this conversation my girlfriend could hear what the immigration officers were saying. My girlfriend overheard “see this paper, I can slap this to the guy who was talking back”. This conversation took place in Tagalog and the actual words spoken were “ itong mga papel na hawak ko pang sampal sa mga taong sumasagot at walang galang katulad noong sumasagot. Mga papel na ganito magandang pang sampal sa mga taong gaya doon”. Additionally, the secondary immigration officer spoke with the initial Immigration officer at the counter who initially stamped, signed and approved my girlfriend’s for departure. He asked the initial officer, “Did you stamp this”, referring for to my girlfriend’s passport. He then asked “was it done”. He replied “yes, that it was done”. To which the secondary immigration officer said “Just wait, I will talk with you later”.
Another female immigration officer who refused to provide her name or identification was involved in the processing and handling of my girlfriend’s secondary inspection. After the secondary immigration officer conducted the interview and my girlfriend filled out the Border Control Questionnaire, he provided the forms to this woman who told my girlfriend she “was not allowed to travel”. When my girlfriend asked why she was not allowed to travel the female officer told her that secondary immigration officer said my girlfriend could not travel but neither the secondary immigration officer or the female officer provided any rationale or explanation to My girlfriend. My girlfriend continued to ask why she was not allowed to travel. The female officer said that my girlfriend was lacking the required, specifically a Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Guidance & Counseling Certificate of Attendance. My girlfriend asked her where she could get the CFO Counseling Certificate and other required documentation and the woman refused to provide her with any information or answers. This woman did not go over the decision to not allow my girlfriend to travel, nor did she explain the rationale behind the decision. In fact, none of the Immigration officials provided my girlfriend with the common courtesy of explaining the decision or providing any explanation. She was only told that she needed the CFO certificate. My girlfriend tried to explain that she has never heard of this form nor had she ever been required to provide this form despite traveling extensively. My girlfriend has traveled with me to Singapore on 3 different occasions without requiring this form. She has also traveled on her own to Hong Kong without the need for any further documentation beyond her passport and return ticket. Additionally, my girlfriend has travelled to Hong Kong, Thailand, Canada, and China with her previous boyfriend without ever providing this CFO form or any other documentation. At this point, my girlfriend asked if I could come back to the immigration area and speak with this female officer regarding the documentation and decision, but was told that there was no need to talk because there was nothing I could do. This female Immigration officer was also disrespectful to me, telling me that “you’re a foreigner and not supposed to question my authority”.
When I was allowed to come back to the Immigration area from the pre-departure area, both, initial counter and secondary immigration officers had already left the area. I first spoke with the female immigration officer who refused to identify herself or provide her name and asked to speak with the supervisory who made the decision regarding My girlfriend’s ability to travel. I was told by the female officer that there was no one I could talk to and nothing that could be done, the decision was already made, and that we needed to leave. This officer repeatedly told us that we needed to leave and there was no one that we could speak to. I continued to explain that I needed to speak with someone in charge who could explain the decision that was made. I told her that we would not leave until speaking with someone who would explain the decision and go over the paperwork. Only after walking into the back office where several Immigration officers were talking was I able to get the attention of anyone. It was at this point that another immigration officer came out and spoke with me. She had the Border Control Questionnaire with her but would not allow my girlfriend or myself to see the form. She too was very disrespectful and unprofessional. The last immigration officer told me several times that I am arrogant and that I was in fact harassing the immigration officials despite the fact that I was simply trying to get an explanation for why my girlfriend was denied after already being approved.
The final immigration officer and the unidentified female Immigration officer were the two main Immigration representatives that we spoke with. The final immigration officer told us that my girlfriend was denied because she did not have a CFO counseling and guidance certificate. The final immigration officer said that the CFO certificate was a requirement that all Filipinos must have for travel. The final immigration officer provided a copy of the regulation which she stated was the basis for denying my girlfriend to travel.
This regulation states:
2.2 Any passenger/traveler who will be subjected for a secondary inspection shall be required to accomplish the bureau of Immigration Border Control Questionnaire to be furnished by the Immigration Officer
2.3 However, the following shall automatically be subjected to secondary inspection:
D) Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate.
The final immigration officer could not explain why my girlfriend was initially approved without being asked for this form. She could not explain why we have never had to provide this form in our past travel together. She basically refused to explain anything. When I asked her for a copy of the Border Control Questionnaire she refused to provide me with a copy. She did not state whether this was against policy, she just refused. I had to argue with her for several minutes in order to see the form so that I could see what the secondary immigration officer wrote in the remarks section for why he denied my girlfriend’s departure. His comments were terse, stating that my girlfriend did not have the proper documentation to travel with a foreigner who is a Clark Special Working Visa holder. The fact that these immigration officers knew my status as a special working visa holder for Clark versus a normal tourist makes the rationale for this decision even more disturbing. I was never given an opportunity to speak with any of the immigration officials to confirm the information my girlfriend provided, nor was I given the opportunity to provide further corroboration.
It is my view that my girlfriend was denied the ability to travel as retribution for the questions which I asked final immigration officer. This was an instance of personal retribution against me for daring to speak to final immigration officer about the immigration policies followed at Clark airport. There is no way to explain why after stamping, signing, and approving her passport for departure she was subjected to a secondary review.