Senators call for suspension of new anti-trafficking travel rules

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 30) — The Senate has approved an unnumbered resolution calling for suspension of the implementation of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking's (IACAT) revised guidelines for outbound Filipino travelers.

No senator opposed the resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva during the plenary session on Wednesday.

The chamber also approved a separate unnumbered resolution allowing the Senate president to file a petition with the Supreme Court seeking a temporary restraining order against the amended rules, only if deemed necessary.

“We are authorizing the Senate president to file on behalf of the Senate a petition before the Supreme Court to issue a TRO (temporary restraining order) should the circumstance show it is still necessary for court intervention to put a stop to these IACAT regulations for being unconstitutional,” Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also requested Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to talk to the IACAT, which is under the Department of Justice, to appeal the implementation of the stricter travel guidelines.

Zubiri said while he is one with the IACAT in finding ways to protect Filipinos, he hopes that it can be done "without also hampering their right to travel."

He said he believes the new travel guidelines are unconstitutional and violate Article 3, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health.”

“If the time comes we need to file to the Supreme Court a TRO, maybe I can enjoin the members to join me… I truly feel, deep in my heart, it is unconstitutional,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Jinggoy Estrada filed Senate Resolution No. 771, seeking an investigation into the revised travel rules. He cited concerns on “potential violation to the constitutionally guaranteed right to travel and freedom of movement.”

The IACAT approved on Aug. 23 the revised guidelines for international-bound Filipino travelers, which aim to "combat the grave menace of human trafficking." The rules will take effect in early September.

READ: What you need to know about the new requirements for Filipinos traveling overseas

Under the amended travel guidelines, all Filipino outbound travelers would be subjected to immigration inspection and will be expected to produce travel documents such as a valid passport, boarding pass, visa, and confirmed return or roundtrip ticket.

Immigration officers may also interview passengers about their reason for travel and request further supporting documents such as proof of financial capacity if they see red flags or suspicion that the traveler is a potential victim of human trafficking.

Villanueva earlier filed Senate Resolution 762, calling for a Senate probe on government efforts to strengthen its anti-trafficking in persons program, particularly for international-bound Filipino passengers.