By Recto Mercene, December 26 2018; Business Mirror


Image Credit to SecureIDNews

The recent launching of electronic gates (e-gates) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), and other key international airports in the country, brought great convenience to arriving Filipino passengers whose passports are now checked automatically, cutting long queues that usually plague the long Christmas season in the Philippines.

From the usual 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes even as long as an hour waiting in line, Filipino migrant workers, balikbayan and tourists can now breeze through the e-gate in seconds.

That was tested and proven the past few weeks, especially at the Naia where the e-gates were installed. Other airports also have been equipped with identical e-gate facilities include Clark, Mactan-Cebu (MCIA) and Davao International Airports.

“There are 16 e-gates at Naia 1, 10 at Naia 2  and 26 at Naia 3,” according to Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) head supervisor at Naia 1 Dennis Robles.

“There has been a marked decline in congestion since the e-gates were installed more than three months ago,” he added, but cautions against being overly optimistic since there are a few more weeks before the longest holiday season on the planet ends.

“We might suddenly get an influx of flights,” he added, although he reveals that prior request had been made with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) to arrange arrivals at the premier gateway so that airplanes come in at regular intervals and not crowded into bunches or short time slots.

BI Port Operations Division Chief Grifton Medina said that the e-gates can process hundreds of Filipino passengers in minutes.

“Flights from Middle East comes mostly at the same time, dislodging hundreds of passengers, but with the e-gates in place, 500 overseas Filipino workers [OFWs] could be processed in about 10 minutes,” he said.

“We estimate that it would take each OFW about 10 seconds, from slapping their boarding pass and passport to the scanner until each receive a piece of paper that the passenger sticks in one of the pages of the passport,” Medina added.

In previous practice, arriving OFWs take about one minute to go through the immigration booth.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente, on the other hand, said 13 of these e-gates are now in operation at Terminals 1 and 2. He said that they have installed three e-gates at the MCIA, as well as in Davao, where two e-gates are now active.

He urged OFWs to use the e-gates upon their arrival in the country so they need not line up for manual processing.

Morente showcased the capabilities of the e-gates during its inauguration in Davao earlier this month.

“Soon we will be installing e-gate machines at the departure area for Filipinos, but we have to consider the possibility of illegal recruiters who might take advantage of the situations,” he said.

Morente said the bureau will continue to conduct preliminary interrogation before allowing departing passengers to proceed to the e-gates.

Much has been said of the e-gates, but a closer look at one of the facilities installed at the premier gateway would convince passengers that the electronic age had indeed caught-up with the country.

This early, however, the device is prone to “hiccups,” but immigration personnel are always at hand to render assistance.

It is a given that immigration arrival zones anywhere in the world are divided into two; those for local residents and those for foreigners.

This is how the e-gate works: A returning Filipino stands before the e-gate, which instructs him or her in the vernacular to submit his boarding pass first and place it facing down the scanner. This tells the machine the passenger’s flight number and other data. The next instruction is to do the same for the passport, with the bio-page facing down.

If the transaction is unsuccessful following the presentation of the passport twice but is rejected, the passenger is instructed to present themselves in a nearby booth, where an agent determines whether it’s the machine’s fault or simply, the passenger had to undergo more questioning.

If successful, a transparent plastic door automatically opens for the passenger to exit, but then another pair of plastic doors blocks his exit. Then a voice asks the passenger to face another device where his biometrics are taken—the passengers photograph and his right thumb mark.

Then the machine churns out a piece of paper which the passenger sticks to page 6 or any of the succeeding pages. This takes the place of the “stamp” that immigration officials imprint on the passport. A successful transaction would take from 10 seconds or a bit more to complete and the doors finally open.

Robles said it is a misconception that passengers should always breeze through immigration as fast as they could.

“Remember that the purpose of immigration worldwide is to screen passengers in the first place,” he said, which could be due to several reasons: security, health, public safety, human smuggling, judicial interest [those with criminal records] and kidnapping [where one of the parents run-off with the child from their estranged spouse, who has custody of the child].

Robles said starting January 2019, airlines headed for the Philippines would be required to play a short video instructing passengers how to use the Naia e-gates.

He said the problem of congestion started when the country adopted the open-skies policy, “while our airport infrastructures remain the same as it was in the past decades.”

To remedy the problem of airport congestions then, Robles said, the previous administration approved a P22 billion “refurbishment program” to improve and expand the airport’s capacity.

However, he wonders what came out of the fund, “because the improvement we see nowadays are the initiatives of the present administration.”