FOREIGNERS AT NAIA TO BE FINGERPRINTED

MANILA, November 15, 2003 (STAR) By Ding Cervantes - All foreigners entering the country via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will be computer-photographed and fingerprinted starting next week as part of the Bureau of Immigrationís measures to prevent the entry of suspected international terrorists.

By next year, the scheme will be implemented in all sea and airports nationwide.

Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said the measure is part of the agencyís computerization project that will utilize P2 million worth of equipment provided by the US government under the Arroyo administrationís commitment to help combat international terrorism.

"The equipment is now here and we are now installing the software so I expect the equipment to be running by the third week of November. The equipment will take pictures and fingerprints of those coming in at our ports. We will start at the NAIA and by next year, I foresee its implementation nationwide," she said.

Domingo also said that her agency is working on the proposal to issue "smart cards" to foreigners in the country. She likened such cards to the "green cards" issued to Filipino immigrants in the US.

She said that once the personal identification system is implemented nationwide, undesirable aliens, including those in the international list of suspected terrorists and those in her bureauís hold order list, would be readily identified as information on such persons would be electronically transmitted to various sea and air ports in the country.

She noted that her bureau has 50 field offices with some 1,000 personnel outside Metro Manila, from as far north as Tuguegarao City and Aparri to as far south as Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, and Siquijor.

"We have a blacklist identifying foreign terrorists as identified by the international intelligence community and they cannot be allowed to enter the Philippines. Those in the Black List A classification who are able to get in, such as those wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, are turned over to the foreign intelligence group of the Philippine National Police," she said.

At the same time, Domingo lamented that despite the huge role in the fight against terrorists and other undesirable aliens and its new mandate as a revenue earner for the government, her bureau does not get sufficient yearly budget.

She noted that this year, the BI got only some P300 million, despite its contribution of over P3 billion to the national treasury in the last three years.

"We are able to raise more income since the computerization of issuance of order of payments. From an average of only P2 million a week, we were able to raise our income to P7 million weekly. This is despite the decline of arrival of foreigners since 2001 arising from the Sept. 11 (2001) attacks (of the World Trade Center), the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and travel advisories (issued by foreign countries to their nationals against going to the Philippines)," she said, attributing this to less cheating in her bureau arising from computerization.

Domingo also said that despite the booming economy in the Peopleís Republic of China, the BI still contends with about 50 percent of its average of 120 illegally staying foreign nationals in its detention center being Chinese. About 35 percent are Indian nationals, she added.

Domingo noted that while nationals from the United States, European countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada and those belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations do not require Philippine visas, those coming from communist countries such as China and North Korea still do.

"That is why our personnel at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at Clark Field have been trained against the possibility of North Koreans posing as South Koreans after Asiana Airlines launched its regular flights between Seoul and Clark," she added.

She also noted problems with nationals from African countries which have no embassies nor consulates in the Philippines. "We do not have funds for their deportation so they have to rely on friends for their fare," she said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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