Have you ever been offloaded in The Philippines on your flight to Thailand? Was the offloading legitimate? How do we minimize offloading?
On my 4th trip to Thailand last May 1st 2013, I was offloaded at Clark International Airport in The Philippines. I passed through this airport because of an attractive promotion offered by a certain airline. I didn't know that I would encounter a more costly trip instead. I happened to watch a public service TV program. A lady was complaining on TV about her offloading experience at Clark International Airport. The lady said the immigration officer did not let her pass through because the immigration officer did not believe that her sponsor, a cousin of hers, was in Thailand.
Then the immigration officer became suspicious that she would be seeking work in Thailand. The lady insisted she would not but when the officer asked for her credentials, the officer noticed her documents were not authenticated by Malacanang (without red ribbons). So she was held by the authorities. What about her return ticket? It was ridiculous. She would only visit her cousin and yet she was required to have her credentials authenticated.
That same experience happened to me. When I checked in three hours before departure, I showed my ticket, passport and exit clearance to the lady officer. She told me to validate my exit clearance from the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) section. Two officers attended to me - asked for my exit clearance, my passport, work contract, and work permit. They asked why I had stayed in the country for more than 5 days. I told them that I had had cataract surgery. They asked for a medical certificate or a doctor's prescription, but I had nothing to show.
I didn't bring what they asked for because those things are not usually required for passing through immigration. To my knowledge, most of the things required are - why are you going to Thailand, what's your job, where will you stay in Thailand, are you going to work there, how much money do you have , do you have an invitation and so forth, but not the medical certificate.
Then they doubted the authenticity of my exit clearance - just to find further fault. They asked me why I got it from SM Manila (Shoe Mart), a mall in Manila and not at the main office of the POEA. I told them there was a big billboard before leaving immigration at the MIA saying ....for convenience you can get exit clearance at the airport, POA Head Office, and SM Manila.
Then one guy turned his laptop on. He even told me to wait a little while. It took him an eternity to get a wi-fi signal. Imagine an international airport without an internet connection. Then they told me they would call up my employer. I told them that the phone number was in the contract. He was dialing his cell phone looking at the topmost portion of the contract and then said "there's no answer". I soon found out when I got the contract back there was no number on the top portion of the contract but it was written below the contract - so he was only pretending. I pleaded to them to let me pass through immigration because I had friends waiting for me on that day in Thailand, but to no avail.
They advised me to go the POEA outside the airport. I did that, but the POEA office was closed because it was Labor Day. So I gave up and returned to Manila. Then I proceeded to the Manila International Airport and got a new ticket. At the airport, it was not difficult for me to have my exit clearance validated for my exit clearance was valid up to 2015. The officer was even surprised why I was offloaded in Clark.
I told him the reason so he gave me a form stating why I had stayed so long in the Philippines. Overwhelmed by the help of this officer, I dropped a note in the suggestion box to commend him for being so helpful and kind to all who approached him. When I got my ticket I was able to get my exit clearance for only 100 pesos as an OFW.
I wonder why Clark International Airport and Manila International Airport have different policies! I was allowed in MIA Terminal 3 but denied in Clark airport. I couldn't help asking myself, "Do immigration officers who offload legitimate passengers get a cut from the airline?" I met one Filipino ticketing officer Filipino from an airline here in Thailand and asked about the whole "offloading business. She nodded and said that in her knowledge, there are a lot of cases like this, which she called "under the table" negotiations - but nothing has been done about it. I researched the topic on the internet. There were a lot of complaints about people being treated like I was.
Some friends of mine shared their own experiences. The first one was a lady who was on her way to take care of a teacher's son. She was offloaded because the immigration officer believed that the teacher could not get a work permit for her relative. Another was a teacher who planned to go to Thailand to visit a friend and was not allowed to go because immigration insisted that she would work in Thailand. Recently, one colleague mentioned that her "nanny" was offloaded because the nanny was under 18.
So how do we avoid being offloaded? I have asked those who were victims and some friends and they said:
1. Bring a copy of all your legal documents when travelling to another country. Include medical certificates if necessary so that when your travel is in question you have evidence to show the immigration officer.
2. If you want to travel on a public holiday and you're near Terminal 3 in Manila, depart there because they have offices for your travel needs.
3. Review your notes on Pre-departure Orientation Seminar prior to departure if you are an OFW.
4. If you are touring Thailand, only have light baggage, sufficient spending money, and give the officer the impression you are not going to work there.
5. Be ready with your visa cards, ATM cards or bank books to show you can support yourself.
6. Ask for advice from friends/ travel agents on how to answer immigration officer questions.
7. Have your authenticated credentials authenticated by Malacanang (with red ribbons).
8. When sponsored, have the letter of sponsorship plus the sponsor's Xerox copies of his/her passport,, work permit, contract, etc. (with translation if possible).
9. Make your old passport available to show that you have travelled to other countries already. Frequent travelers are always given priority.
I don't know why Filipino immigration officers are so strict in allowing their legitimate countrymen (those who have the basic documents) to go out of the country. Don't our countrymen have the right to travel? Why are strict regulations imposed to legally employed Filipinos in other countries who merely take a vacation?
Why do they have to be inconsiderate at the expense of our countrymen who borrow or even sell their properties just to be able to go abroad? It is okay if the traveler is questionable. But for those like me who have the right to travel, who have a valid re-entry permit from Thailand, have a contract and work permit, return ticket and exit clearance, the officers should let me go without incurring more expense. My cataract operation had cost me more than 40,000 pesos already. They should have also given me consideration as a senior citizen as a sign of respect.
Fortunately I was able to sort out things and return to Thailand within 24 hours. What if I did not have the resources? I guess it's high time for the Philippine government to look into the offloading problems of so many Filipinos - especially those with tickets bought through promotions. The poor Filipino is jeopardized here. Their hard earned money is wasted even when not necessary.