Profiling boo-boo: Malaysian PM’s Filipino staff barred from flight at Naia

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Photo by Robert Viñas/Malacañang Photo Bureau

Five Filipino members of the household staff of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak were barred from their flight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday after a confidential agent of the Bureau of Immigration reportedly suspected them of being job seekers planning to enter Malaysia as tourists.

The Filipinos—identified as Maricel Cancejo, Decemera Salceda, Wendelyn Tacotaco, and Janeth and Rene Revadona—were supposed to return to Kuala Lumpur onboard a Malaysian Airlines flight (MH-803) set to leave Naia Terminal 1 at 6:30 p.m. when they were ordered to disembark by the BI agent identified as Nelia Buenaflor.

When contacted by reporters, BI spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang declined to confirm the incident but said the agency’s main office was awaiting the official report of Benito Se, chief of the BI-Airport Operations Division.

The Inquirer tried but failed to locate Buenaflor at the BI office in Naia. According to BI employees, she was a nurse who worked for Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David when he was still the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.

While in Manila, the five Filipinos attended to Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor. The couple, together with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and other top Malaysian officials, graced Monday’s signing in Malacañang of the historic framework agreement between the peace panels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government.

Najib, his wife and the other Malaysian officials left on a private plane on Tuesday morning, leaving their staff and other aides to book a commercial flight.

Sources said the five were already lining up for the final security check when they were told by another immigration officer to return to the Travel Control Enforcement Unit.

The Filipinos, who had been cleared at the immigration counter, said they had already presented to the TCEU their working and travel papers issued by the Malaysian government which indicated that they were part of Najib’s entourage.

Buenaflor, however, reportedly profiled the Filipinos as possible “tourist workers,” according to the sources, and refused to let them leave.

The Malaysian foreign minister later called Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to complain about the BI’s action and to confirm that the five were legitimate employees of Najib. Missing their Oct. 16 flight, the five Filipinos had to rebook their flight the next day.

Despite stringent guidelines governing the operation of BI agents, many departing international travellers have complained about being offloaded or denied permission to leave on mere suspicion of illegal activity despite their presentation of valid travel papers.

The agents, however, maintain that they were just being vigilant since they could be dismissed from the service for allowing undocumented workers or human trafficking victims to leave the country.

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