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The Philippines speeds up implementation of digital API system

The Philippine government is speeding up the implementation of a passenger automation system that will strengthen immigration procedures in the country on top of other safety restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of Justice to shorten the period required in issuing the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of an Executive Order (E.O.) which provides for the implementation of the Advance Passenger Information (API) system. The recommendation was made by the Justice Secretary during the recently-held Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting.  

The President signed and approved E.O. 122 earlier this month. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the API system is an electronic programme that shall serve as an “initial security vetting” of passengers and common carrier personnel. It is anticipated that the new system will expedite immigration processes and the overall inspection of travellers coming to and departing from the Philippines. 

Upon adoption, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) shall have the sole authority to receive all data gathered by the API programme. The E.O. shall require captains, masters, agents or owners of vessels or aircrafts arriving or leaving any port within Philippine territory to provide the Bureau with the API of all passengers and crew members. The API shall enable immigration authorities to collect information from machine-readable passports and travel documents provided by commercial carriers.  

However, the provisions of E.O. 122 must not be construed to mean that passengers and personnel of commercial carriers shall be exempt from physical inspection at immigration counters. 

Upon receipt of the API, immigration authorities shall be required to conduct an extensive verification of API information using its existing database and those related to law enforcement. These data shall be cross-referenced with notices from the International Criminal Police Organisation and information on travel bans issued by the United Nations Security Council. 

Under the API programme, the BI shall undertake measures to ensure that information gathered shall be limited to those that are necessary only. The immigration department must also see to it that the structure of these data and their transmission conform to international standards and best practices. 

All data gathered shall be stored in the API database for a period not exceeding 12 months from the date of collection. After this period, all information would be destroyed. 

Failure to disclose the name of other pertinent information of any passenger or crew member of the carrier shall be grounds for administrative penalties as provided for under Commonwealth Act No. 613 or The Philippine Immigration Act. Crew and non-crew members who intentionally omit to provide APIs shall also be penalised under the Executive Order. Any unauthorised sharing or use of information gathered under the new system shall be fined accordingly under existing criminal and civil service laws. 

In enacting the Executive Order, the government aims to enforce stricter border control, with the President emphasising that the upgrade in passenger screening protocols will help “enhance border integrity, manage international traffic flow amidst dramatic growth in passenger numbers and ensure public safety and security.” 

The President’s directive to fast-track the implementation of the API programme comes on the heels of a series of recommendations related to safety protocols in light of the pandemic. He has approved the Department of Health’s recommendation for a more stringent 14-day quarantine for travellers in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Another recommendation to improve surveillance protocols and contact tracing in high-risk groups was likewise approved by the President. 

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