Morente’s days as mere ‘flower vase’ must end

February 27, 2020

In the wake of the so-called ‘pastillas scheme’ which is currently the subject of a probe by the Senate,  I was able to have a tete-a-tete with oldtimers at the Bureau of Immigration (BI), both assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals and at the BI main office in Intramuros.

All of them mentioned at one point during our conversation that it’s high time that the old BI law governing the operations at the bureau be changed to make it in keeping with the modern times.

I learned from them that one thing that prevents the BI from instituting total reforms is the fact that for years now, the BI Commissioner himself, in this case Jaime Morente, does not have the authority or power to appoint or fire any BI official. They said such authority rests with the Department of Justice until the new law, which continues to pend as of this writing, is finally passed. Really??

Well, I did not take this at face value and talked to BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval, who was gracious enough to entertain an interview over the cellphone and answer all of my queries patiently.  She confirmed that indeed, Morente does not even have the disciplinary powers over BI officers and even plain personnel, save for those who are on contractual status. Ouch.

The farthest that Morente can go, she said, is to recommend disciplinary actions for erring personnel and since his power is confined to only recommendatory, I assume that this can either be acted upon positively or turned down and only after an investigation is done, in line with the so-called ‘due process.’  Sandoval said the current setup had been there since the time of the past administration and was unfortunately carried over by the current national government.

According to Sandoval, the NBI, which, just like the BI is also a DoJ-attached agency, also used to suffer due to the old law governing its operations but that now, it has fully recovered with the introduction of a new law.

For the longest time, Morente had been quiet and this is a mystery to many, including to me.  Now I know why.

If something happens involving BI officials or employees, Morente cannot comment with finality because whatever decision he may have in mind will have to be approved or disapproved by the DoJ.  Instead of any action taking place immediately, solutions to problems at the BI will have to be delayed unnecessarily since they have to be cleared with someone else aside from the BI head himself.

Why put Morente there when the powers he is supposed to exercise as BI Commissioner rests on another person? How can he carry out his functions effectively and fully, when he cannot hire or fire, reshuffle and appoint officials to help him with his vision and programs for a better bureau?

In my own humble opinion, officials running the BI must be handpicked by Morente himself, simply because they act as his extension to the public that they come across with every single day.

Being an official of any agency or government institution for that matter is a position of confidence.  It’s hard to see each other eye to eye if the other person, who is supposed to be your subordinate,  is someone alien to you.

I heard the President say in one of his most recent speeches that, in the wake of the alleged anomaly involving the entry of POGO workers, that he still has full confidence in Morente, that he continues to trust him and that he is a good man whom he had known since he (Morente) was chief of the Davao Police.

Obviousy, the President  knows about Morente’s limited powers, when he said: ‘limitado eh” in reference to the fact that Morente could not exercise fully his responsibilities as head of the BI.

The new Immigration law shall correct these flaws like power to ‘hire and fire,’ similar to the kind of power that other government bureau heads enjoy.  Just like, for instance, in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, a bureau under  the Department of National Defense, even a third level subordinate commander (army division) can hire and fire personnel as well as suspend and decide positions of officers.

With  Morente virtually powerless in the BI where he was put by President Duterte, he will remain as some sort of a mere ‘flower vase’ until and unless the new BI law is passed. Oh my…


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