Hindi ko po alam kung ako ang may diperensya o kung may bagong natuklasan na raket ang mga taga Bureau of Immigration sa airport.
Around April 25 of this year, I came back to Manila from my band’s reunion concerts in New Zealand. Let me repeat… I was COMING BACK to Manila… not leaving.
I was mildly shocked when the immigration officer was hesitant in stamping my passport and informed me that I was on the immigration watch list – or should I say a certain Dennis Garcia was.
I was detained while the lady officer figured out what to do. After ten minutes of fiddling with her computer, she called her supervisor to help out.
The supervisor came and started pushing the keys of the computer. I was told to sit in a chair nearby.
After around 20 minutes… after my companions had all collected their bags… after the car fetching me had circled the block several times… the supervisor handed me my passport without a word.
I demanded an explanation for my “detention”.
He said that there was some sort of “hold order” for a Dennis Garcia who was convicted for lascivious acts in Maasin, Leyte.
But I was fuming. And you, too, would: I was coming home, not leaving the country.
They were uncaring. Not sympathetic.
“So will this be a recurring ‘detainment'”, I asked.
They said, “yes”. Unless I get a document called “Certificate of Not the Same Person” from the Bureau of Immigration along with a NBI clearance.
I asked how they go about determining who is the rightful person to “hold” if based only on the computer read out – spewing lists without photos, birth dates, addresses or middle names. And with no common sense.
I added, “Why should a citizen be penalized for the bureau’s inept recordkeeping and data gathering capability.
What about people with common names like Jose dela Cruz, Antonio Santos, Miguel Reyes?”
I erased that bad experience from memory and followed what the great philosopher Marian Rivera famously intoned, “Past is past. Move on.”
In spite of my hectic schedules, I found time to go through all the red tape to fix my dilemma. The NBI clearance. The long lines at the Bureau of Immigration. The near-unbearable Manila traffic. The struggle had a bill total of almost two thousand pesos.
Beaming, I finally had the precious documents in my hands… “Certificate of Not the Same Person” from the Bureau of Immigration and a crisp new NBI clearance.
My birthday was just a few weeks away. And as usual, I was looking forward to my family’s birthday treat of taking me holidaying to a destination they kept secret.
The day of the flight. I confidently stepped in front of the Immigration Officer, handed my passport… flashed my clearance documents and waited with a smile on my face.
She started nodding her head while looking at her computer screen.
“Sorry, there’s a bit of a problem. You are on the watchlist – someone named Dennis Garcia, guilty in a murder case in Camiling, Tarlac.”
No photo. No middle name. No birth date. No common sense.
Instead of making a scene or slapping a face – as President Duterte advised harassed travellers – I meekly whispered.
“May I know your full name please and designation?”
“I have a little column in a tiny newspaper and would like to faithfully share what I experienced today.”
And those magical words were the start of my amazing birthday food tripping with my loved ones in Tokyo and Osaka.