House panel seeks clarification on Cimatu’s diplomatic status

THE HOUSE Foreign Affairs Committee is questioning the legality of the diplomatic status of Gen. Roy Cimatu, former AFP Chief of Staff and now special envoy to the Middle East.

President Benigno Aquino III retained Cimatu in his position as special envoy to the Middle East, specifically Iraq and Egypt.

The question about his appointment came up during a recent committee hearing where the escalation of hostilities in Libya was discussed.  There are about 25,000 Overseas Filipino Workers in Libya, 16,000 of them nurses.

During the hearing, Akbayan Party-list Rep. Walden F. Bello said there is a need to clarify the status of Cimatu. “We last heard he is being recalled from Egypt and Afghanistan. Who is replacing him to be on top of the situation in the Middle East?” asked Bello.

Cimatu is presently in the country, appearing before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which is conducting a continuing probe on alleged corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. An emergency team headed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis has been appointed to take over. “Nobody’s replacing Cimatu,” Bello said.

House committee chairman Rep. Al Francis DC Bichara (2nd District, Albay) said the ambassador in the area should be the one on top of the situation. “The ambassador is usually better-known in their areas of responsibility,” he said.

“If we send somebody who will just be ignored by the host country, better that we send an ambassador, who is more recognized,” Bichara added.

The House body will invite the Department of Foreign Affairs to its next meeting sometime in mid-March to ask the real status of Cimatu as special envoy—someone who is usually sent on missions.

Meanwhile, Bichara questioned the DFA’s inclination to issue travel bans. He said issuing travel or deployment bans merely gives black marketers better business by taking advantage of the situation.

“The more we issue travel bans, the more customers these black marketers have,” Bichara said. “They smuggle citizens and there’s big money. We actually create a black market for human trafficking whenever we issue travel bans.”

“So why insist on travel bans? The right to travel is guaranteed by the Constitution.” Bichara said. “We don’t know where the Filipinos are. Many of them are caught at the airports. We catch the worker, but not the recruiters.”

Deployment bans are hung over Iraq, Nigeria, Jordan, Lebanon and parts of Somalia, where the frontline government doesn’t control the entire country.

“Even with the deployment ban, some people still find ways to go to these countries,” Bichara noted. “We have to review our problems with travel bans or we would be creating more problems. It is like being caught between a rock and hard place.”

Rep. Roilo S. Golez (2nd District, Parañaque City) said he is filing a House Resolution calling on the Executive branch to review the policy on travel bans.

“Travel bans and travel advisories merely give the DFA the license to exercise discretion that can be subject to abuse. The Bureau of Immigration is very discretionary. Filipinos are going to take risks if there is a corresponding adjustment in their pay, such as in the military, where there is combat pay. That is the person’s (OFWs’) decision,” Golez said.

“Travel bans are judgmental and discriminatory and offend the sensitivities. If you look a certain way or if one were a mestizo and wears Louis Vuitton, then the BI officer lets him or her through. The House committee must look deeper into this,” Golez added.

The lawmakers agreed that BI profiling is not a good method, but that it must have operational guidelines so as not to discriminate against Filipinos.

Compounding the problem is that in issuing such bans, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) do not act unilaterally, as was shown in the case of Angelo de la Cruz, who was undocumented when he entered the Middle East.

Jordan and Lebanon don’t cooperate with the Philippines on travel bans.

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