The official uniform – black in color – of an Immigration Officer (IO) says it all. Formal and regal. Exuding its lofty character, it commands respect, honor and dignity. After all, the person wearing it, the Immigration Officer, is but imbued with the solemn duty of safeguarding our borders, of protecting the country from terrorists, foreign criminals, pedophiles, and other unwanted entrants.
Particularly, the person behind this official immigration uniform is duty-bound to ensure that departing Filipinos would not be victims of human trafficking, migrant smuggling and illegal recruitment, and at the same time preventing the departure of those who want to abscond from the law.
But recently, this loftiness or regality of being an Immigration Officer has been scarred by multifarious criticisms hurled both from some offloaded passengers and the public, triggered by some viral offloading and extortion complaints.
However, unbeknownst to many, behind the prestigious-looking immigration uniform are the real-life travails and sacrifices of IOs, all endured for the sake of public service or sworn duty to motherland.
They work while we soundly sleep at night. Their work or duty to country being of utmost priority, they are almost always absent from family gatherings and special occasions; they are not able to celebrate their birthdays or enjoy vacations and holidays – Christmas, New Year, including the recent Holy Week observance.
A veritable case in point is Reesa (not her real name), 31, an Immigration Officer for already five years.
The eldest in a brood of four, Reesa, who’s still single and the family’s breadwinner for some time, stays with her family in Batangas and regularly commutes to her work at the NAIA. She wakes up at 2:00 early in the morning, then takes two hours on a public transport going to work, and spends some 9 to 10 hours at her work, until she heads back for home spending 3 to 4 hours on the road due to day traffic.
Reesa recounts how she in the past, while performing her duty at Terminal 1, NAIA, failed to visit her dying Lola, whom she grew up with as a child, in the hospital and missed as well her wake.
“Habang ako’y naka-duty sa Terminal 1, na-inform po ako ng nanay ko na nasa intensive care unit si Lola at hinahanap ako. Sinubukan ko pong magpaalam sa hepe ko, pero hindi ako pinayagan na umuwi dahil peak season noon, December 29. Then, the following day, December 30, bandang tanghali, tinawagan ako ng inay para sabihin na wala na si Lola. Nakauwi ako January 2 na. Nakaabot naman ako ng libing pero hindi na ako nakapaglamay. Ang masakit po ay hindi ko na naabutan si Lola noong hinahanap pa ako. Si Lola ang madalas kong kasama while growing up (While I was on duty at Terminal 1, I was informed by my mom that grandma was at the ICU, and she was asking for me. I tried asking permission from my head if I could go home, but I wasn’t permitted, because it was peak season then for passengers, December 29. Then, the following day, December 30, around noon, my mom called saying grandma was already gone. I was able to get home only on January 2. I did attend the burial, but I missed grandma’s wake. What hurt me was that I failed to come when grandma wanted to see me. She’s been always with me while I was yet growing up).”
Asked how she thinks about the flood of public criticisms against IOs caused by the viral lady “Tiktoker,” Reesa calmly retorts:
“I think it’s a one-sided perception ganged up by bandwagons. It’s our job to ask questions and assess, and for the passengers to provide credible answers or proof. We’re supposed to be the enforcer of immigration laws, not a customer service representative. In particular, we’re zealous enough in assessing passengers and preventing our fellow Filipinos from falling prey into the hands of human traffickers and illegal recruiters. Otherwise, it would be they (human traffickers and migrant smugglers) who would be having the last laugh.”
Amid the “brouhaha” versus IOs and all the negativity surrounding her work, Reesa confides that “what keeps her persevere in her job is her family and the nobility of her profession,” even as she admits that one lesson that she learned from the current controversy is for her “to be more prudent and courteous in dealing with passengers while not sacrificing her sworn duty as an IO.”
Meanwhile, Reesa always looks forward to one thing every after her duty time: to be able to get home, be with her family, have a good rest, and be able to be back on duty the following day.