Cham Tanteras, a fashion stylist, freelance writer, and host, was left behind by her 11 a.m. Gulf Air flight to Israel and Palestine in December 2022, not because she was late checking in or going to the airport, but because the immigration officer who handled her asked a lot of questions that had nothing to do with her itinerary.
Tanteras detailed her ordeal in a social media post called “immigration rant,” which drew attention from netizens who labeled what occurred to her as “power tripping to the roof” by a person.
She said she began lining up at immigration in the NAIA Terminal 1 around 7 to 8 a.m. on December 21 because she is a solo traveler who does not want to be caught in the airport’s frantic queues.
She was surprised, however, when the customs officer began questioning her about her motive for the trip and directed her to an office where she was asked further “irrelevant questions” by a certain “Abdullah.”
“The line was so long, since I’m a solo traveler—but, it’s not my first time traveling solo—of course, the immigration officer kept asking questions about my flights, my previous flights, my reason for traveling, which was supposed to be just spending Christmas in Jesus’ birth places,” she said on her video post.
“So, the immigration officer started asking questions about my reason for travel, and then I needed to go through their head office, whatever, and i’ll be asked more questions. I was brought to that immigration office, somewhere in there in Terminal 1 and there was like a long line, and I wasn’t asked right away; I waited for like more than 30 minutes or almost an hour for my turn,” Tanteras added.
Tanteras said she was questioned if her parents had separated and if she had her yearbook with her. “Who brings a yearbook going to Israel? Who brings yearbook when you travel.”
As she did not bring her yearbook, Tanteras who graduated 10 years ago, said she was advised to present if she’d brought a graduation photo with her.
“I recall that I have a wacky photo of me in my toga. And then I showed it to him, and he said, ‘okay, that’s fine,” she said.
Tanteras claimed that she answered other questions, such as who booked her flight, although she had a printed copy with her. She pulled out her phone, and Abdullah began checking and perusing her email to confirm that she had booked her own travel on December 14.
She mentioned too in her video post that she was able to prepare other necessary documents such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) registration of her freelancing work, certificate of employment, bank certificates, certificate of residency, and previous passports and visas that the immigration officer did not check.
“And then he found I have a PTI of my business, freelance stuff, and he was asking what [I’m doing] here in Siargao. So I had to explain in detail in an essay form what boodle means,” she said.
During that time, according to her, airport ground personnel kept returning to the immigration office to inform her that it was her final call and she must proceed to the boarding gate.
The ground crew also inquired as to whether or not the immigration officer would offboard her as they don’t “need to keep coming back.”
“And then the officer said, ‘I will not offload her. Just wait for me for more questions.’ In my mind, I was like, you don’t have plans of offloading me so why do you have to keep asking questions,” Tanteras said. “Up until he finally stamped my passport, that I was allowed to go.”
Tanteras said she sprinted with the airport staff, but it was too late because her boarding gate had closed.
“I missed my flight,” she recounted, adding that when she inquired what she should do, she was told to “just rebook your flight” for the following day. But her two connecting flights the next day is to Tel Aviv.
Tanteras noted that she was determined to achieve her travel goal, so she booked a flight the next day, choosing Terminal 3.
Netizens were quick to comment on the post, sharing their own frustrations and experiences.
“Yearbook? We’re only allowed to carry 7 kilos of carry-on baggage and we will bring a yearbook weighing several kilos? For what?,” @Tessh02 said.
“I experienced this 3 years ago! They were like wasting your time para mamiss mo yung flight mo. Sobrang nakakagalit at nakakaiyak,” shared Jona Flores-Mallari.
Some netizens even tagged government officials asking them to look into the situation.
“Senator @GracePoe baka naman? Kagigil na immigration officers sa NAIA ah,” posted @iamchicosky.
A Palaweña, who asked to maintain anonymity by using the name “Jane”, shared to Palawan News her similar experience in 2019.
According to Jane, she was traveling to Japan alone to meet her boyfriend. The immigration officer asked her too many questions, which caused a long line at the counter.
She said the officer decided to bring her inside an office, where the interrogation continued before she was allowed to leave.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) defended their officer, saying in a statement that they were mandated by law to address the issue of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
They also said that upon investigation, Tanteras was cleared upon filling out the border control questionnaire and subjecting it to secondary inspection.