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Philippine government strengthens immigration through new API

The Philippine government is deploying innovative screening procedures in a bid to strengthen its existing immigration laws.

According to a statement, President Rodrigo Duterte has given his go signal to implement the Advance Passenger Information (API) system as part of initiatives geared towards intensifying enforcement of border control and immigration protocols.

Executive Order No. 122 recently signed by the President, provides for the adoption of the API system. This is an electronic communications application which allows for the collection of data from machine-readable passports and travel documents, as well as other information provided by common carriers.

In signing the Order, the President seeks to improve the screening capabilities of immigration authorities which, in turn, can “enhance border integrity, manage international traffic flow amidst dramatic growth in passenger numbers, and ensure public safety and security”.

Under the provisions of the E.O., APIs can be either interactive or non-interactive. The system can also be integrated alongside other programs which have been authorized under existing international guidelines and standards.

E.O. 122 mandates any captain, master or owner of a commercial carrier with a vessel or aircraft arriving or departing from Philippine territory to provide the Bureau of Immigration with an API of all passengers aboard the aircraft or vessel. The carrier’s crew and non-crew members shall also be included in the list of APIs to be submitted to the Bureau.

Penalties under E.O. 122

For failure to disclose or include the name of any passenger or crew aboard a vessel or aircraft, the captain, master, or owner of a carrier shall be meted with administrative fines as provided under Commonwealth Act No. 613 otherwise known as The Philippine Immigration Act. Crew and non-crew members shall also be liable under the Order if it is proven that they intentionally omitted their information from the API system.

Likewise, unauthorized or unreasonable sharing or use of information gathered for the API shall be fined under applicable criminal and civil service laws.

Data gathered shall be stored in the API for not more than 12 months from the date of collection of information. Upon the lapse of this period, all data gathered shall be destroyed.

Use by other government agencies

With the introduction and use of APIs, the government anticipates a more effective and speedy arrival and departure process for travellers. The new system shall not, however, be a substitute or mode of exemption from primary inspection methods in immigration counters.

The Order also states that all APIs gathered by the BI may be shared as part of measures to uphold regional and international security measures.

The API system does not cater solely to the BI. The new program may also be used by any government instrumentality as a tool to upscale law enforcement, intelligence and even counter-terrorism functions, all expected to contribute to public safety and order. Such agencies include the Department of Transportation Office for Air Transport Security, the Philippine Coast Guard, Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Anti-Terrorism Council and the Department of the Interior and Local Government are also expected to benefit from the API program.

The Philippines has been at the forefront of adopting innovative solutions that can upgrade current government processes. In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Philippine congress announced that it has doubled the nation’s budget for the National Broadband Program which aims to streamline internet connectivity and provide for broadband infrastructure. These efforts are part of a larger scheme propagated by the government as it makes its gradual shift to digitalisation.

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