Duterte OKs use of express lane fees for immigration workers' salaries, overtime

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A year's worth of appeals bear fruit for the workers and employees of the Bureau of Immigration (BI). 

President Rodrigo Duterte will allow the use of income from express lane fees to pay for the salaries and overtime pay of BI employees for 2018, until Congress enacts a new Immigration law that will address their pay problems.

“I will allow the establishment of a trust fund to be constituted from the express lane fees and charges collected by the BI for the payment of salaries and overtime to employees of the BI,” Duterte said in his veto message sent to the Congress when he signed into law the 2018 national budget.

“Until the Congress has enacted a new Immigration Modernization Law in 2018 which will upgrade the compensation system in the Bureau of Immigration, I will allow the establishment of a trust fund,” he said.

The special provision covering the express lane fund will be subject to the guidelines which will be promulgated by Aguirre, Diokno and the Commission on Audit.

Controversial practice

The BI has a decades-long practice to compensate for the low salary grades of its officials, a result of the outdated 1940s Immigration law. 

However, the President halted the use of express lane fees to fund the salaries and overtime pay.

This affected the frontline staff as many Immigration Officers (IOs) resigned or went on indefinite leave, as their take-home pay got cut drastically. Without the overtime pay and other incentives, an IO only takes home P24,000 a month, some as low as P16,000 a month.

The BI's employees sought to have the system reinstated. However, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno did not give in to the appeals of BI leaders, including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, and said it is a corrupt system that needs to stop.

The President also said that additional positions have been created so that employees no longer need to render overtime. 

But filling in vacant positions is a tricky part for the BI. Diokno criticizes the bureau for not hiring, while employees say they need their overtime provisions because it’s the only way they would earn more.

All these issues will hopefully be addressed once the Congress passes the Immigration Modernization Law. Duterte is nudging both houses of Congress to pass it in 2018. 

“I take special note of the plight of our employees at the Bureau of Immigration, who constitute the first line of defense in securing our borders,” Duterte said in the veto message.

"This clearly shows that the President places the welfare of those in the bureaucracy among his top priority," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Thursday, December 28.  Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.