THERE are two news stories that caught my attention recently and curiously, there’s not much noise around them.
First, local governments have declared the transgender behind the controversial “Ama Namin” dance a “persona non grata” in their locales. Second, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) issued a list of documents that first-time travelers, and those who are “suspected” of being victims of human trafficking, should present before leaving the country.
Why are these stories related? One is about fighting religious sacrilege; the other is about combating human trafficking. But in both instances, one thing many media practitioners have been failing to notice is that they both curtail freedom to travel—a basic human right and Constitutional right.
Drag artist unwanted
LIKE other “marites” and “mema” netizens, I was one of those who quickly blasted the viral video of drag artist Amadeo Fernando Pagente, a.k.a. Pura Luka Vega.
Dancing to the “Lord’s Prayer” remixed a la punk-rock, dressing like the Black Nazarene, jamming with the crowd and posting the act in social media, in my view, have all the makings of religious sacrilege. Pagente argued that he was merely expressing himself. Catholic bishops, of course, issued a calm statement that is fatherly, very forgiving of such actions that “disrespected” the faith.
Some local government officials, though, were not quite as forbearing—at least, not yet. The provincial board of Bukidnon, Bohol and Laguna, as well as the city and municipal councils of Toboso in Negros Occidental, Floridablanca in Pampanga, General Santos City, City of Manila and Cagayan de Oro City have issued separate resolutions declaring Pagente a “persona non grata (Latin for ‘unwelcome person’).” The underlying themes were collective condemnations of the subject’s acts seen as “mockery,” “disrespect” or outright “offensive to religious sentiments.”
Alas, nowhere in their declarations defined what they intend to do with someone declared as “persona non grata.” Legally speaking, only sovereign states can label an individual as such. That person should be a diplomat whom they have initially allowed to represent his/her own country.
Diplomats generally have immunity in countries where they are accredited. So, governments cannot arrest them if they violate the local laws. What the governments can do is just expel and label them with the notorious tag.
In Pagente’s case, if he is declared as “persona non grata” in provinces, towns or cities, the local police unfortunately cannot evict him. There is no national edict or jurisprudence for the government to declare someone a “persona non grata.”
Ergo, the declaration is just that: “You’re unwelcome here.” But they can’t forcibly remove him or prevent him from riding a plane, bus or ship to those areas. It’s simply unconstitutional. The only merit of the resolution is an expression of collective condemnation.
IACAT’s ‘Solomonic’ solution
STARTING September 3, Filipinos who are first-time travelers or those who, in the trained eyes of immigration officers “looked like” future victims of human trafficking, may undergo secondary screening.
There, the “suspected” future victim should present documents to disprove what the immigration officer thinks he or she would be. Thus, the latter needs to prepare: (1) proof of accommodation, (2) financial capacity or source of income, (3) proof of employment, (4) original birth or marriage certificate, (5) sponsor’s passport, (6) the overseas Filipino worker’s overseas employment certificate, if sponsored by another, (7) notarized original affidavit of support and guarantee (emphasis on “notarized” by the Philippine embassy or consulate/honorary consulate, or apostilled by the local authority), (8) confirmed return ticket or roundtrip ticket, and (9) original birth certificate or marriage showing relationship between passenger and sponsor (if the latter is related to first or fourth degree).
Does that make sense? Your own country is preventing you from leaving and looking for greener pastures.
I have traveled many times as a journalist, and it’s bad enough that other countries looked down on me, because I was holding a Philippine passport. I’ve had encounters in train stations’ border patrols with immigration officers who would confer with one another. They would look at my passport, visas and letters of invitation longer than the other passengers. That’s because I’m a Filipino.
Fighting human trafficking is really hard, and it’s becoming more complex with the ease of communications courtesy of technology: social media, dark web, money laundering, drug trafficking, etc. That’s why I pity the Bureau of Immigrations for being the “last line of defense” in this war. This is a war that should have been fought from the start online and recruitment networks.
We can’t fault the BI for doing its job. But we have to draw the line that these IACAT rules are downright degrading to the highest degree. Human trafficking is a global problem, and other countries are not wont to break those demanding orders.
Remember: travel is in the Filipinos’ DNA. We are an archipelagic country, and we are natural seafaring citizens. If we choose to travel, despite our better judgment, it’s not because we are stupid. We are who we are: a migrant nation. And the Constitution makes sure it’s in there. As a right. Go figure out other innovative ways to skin the goddamn human trafficking cats.