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August 13, 2007

Relaxed visa hurts anti-terror drive
Philippines Senator Mar Roxas on Sunday urged the Bureau of Immigration to review its earlier order allowing foreigners to extend their temporary visitors visas up to 16 months because it hampers the government's crackdown on terrorism and transnational crimes.

"We support the tourism campaign, but we must be mindful that too much leniency prejudices our national security," he said.

Roxas was apparently referring to the bureau's memorandum order, which took effect last July 31, which he said is intended to further promote tourism in the country, according to Commissioner Marcelino Libanan.

However, Roxas lamented that the order virtually permits foreign nationals to extend their stay in the Philippines every two months for up to 16 months without going through a process of approval.

He pointed out the irony in being lenient in granting foreigners to stay further in the country for more than a year while government wields the Human Security Act.

"It's not enough to just attract tourists, we also need to determine their intentions and whereabouts; and the government is able to keep track of them whenever they apply for an extension of visa. By allowing them to stay for sixteen months in the country undetected and therefore unaccountable, we weaken our defenses against global threats to Filipinos," he explained.

Further, he added that immigration policies should also be accustomed to global imperatives which are also a domestic concern such as the campaign against terror, human trafficking, drugs and transnational crimes.

He also noted the global efforts to strengthen the defenses against the terrorists and transnational criminal syndicates through immigration reforms and better security and intelligence efforts.

Roxas stressed that it is best to modernize and reinforce the BID and other frontline agencies that deal with tourists and foreign investors before government loosens its grip on tourist arrivals.

"I am willing to work together with Commissioner Libanan in pushing for reforms in light of our outdated immigration laws. Meanwhile, let us balance our zeal in boosting tourism with the overwhelming need to strengthen public safety," he said.

He said basic steps to enhance governments intelligence capabilities must be taken by the government before it even considers escalating strictures on civil liberties in the name of national security. PNA

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