DICT responds; trumpets wisdom of eTravel

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

From pains to gains.

This was the reaction of the Department of Information & Communications Technology (DICT) to my recent column about eTravel last week titled eTravel pains, which focused on the stories of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who complained about the new system.

Actually, even foreigners sent me emails to share with me their own horror stories about the eTravel app. Some of them said they have opted to visit our neighbors such as Vietnam because entry is hassle-free.

The DICT, however, gave a lengthy response, trumpeting the wisdom of the new system which the government introduced last year for every arriving and departing passenger.

Here, thus, are excerpts from DICT Undersecretary for e-government David Almirol’s written reply to my column:

We do appreciate your article about eTravel that caused some pains to some passengers, especially to our OFWs, for us to improve our online services.

Before eTravel was implemented last year, passengers needed to use the following segregated systems, and it was way complicated that time:

1. Arrival and Departure Card – Passengers needed to manually and repeatedly enter their information to this form and manually submit it to the immigration officer. From the end of the government, the Bureau of Immigration together with the Tourism Department needed to manually encode the content of the cards just to have a general report of passengers and tourists count.

2. OneHealhPass – Passengers needed to go to a website to declare health conditions, including answering health questionnaires provided by the Bureau of Quarantine. They were mandated to gather this data for health monitoring and maybe conduct preventive contact tracing just in case some sickness was recorded upon arrival in the Philippines, including countries with some epidemic or pandemic issues.

3. Customs Declaration Form – Passengers needed to fill up this form if they purchased foreign products or bought in valuable items.

4. Tourism Form – Tourists needed to fill up this form. The data was needed by the Department of Tourism to come up with a general dashboard/report for better-decision making and strategy on how to foster tourism in the Philippines.

5. Seaport Forms – Passengers needed to fill up a form or provide repetitive data for both seaports passengers’ arrival and departure.

6. Overseas Employment Certificate – OFWs needed to show or prove to the immigration that they have a valid OEC before flying abroad.

7. Immigration System – Immigration staff had to manually enter details upon scanning the passport of the passenger. eTravel Data’s integration with the Bureau of Immigration (BI) simplified the process and eased up airport decongestion.

8. Cruise Arrival and Departure – Cruise passengers needed to manually fill up forms for both health, tourist and immigration data.

The eTravel was launched last year and simplified a lot of the processes.

However, we also understand the challenges of innovation birth pains like some of our kababayans who don’t have a phone or an internet connectivity to access eTravel or those who are non-techie passengers.

We initiated several solutions already, such as putting tablets/kiosks for passengers who are not able to register with eTravel ahead of time. We also intend to deploy eTravel assistants in our airports as well. We are also working with MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority), DOTr (Department of Transportation) and Customs on putting eTravel standees or placards for an easy step-by-step usage of the eTravel.

Rest assured that DICT together with our agency partners will continuously enhance and simplify the system.

Some of DICT’s suggestions to avoid users’ issues of registrations:

1. Passengers need to enter correct and complete information. Otherwise, their registration will not be approved. This is to eliminate identity theft and protect our borders.

2. We need to be more active in campaigning about the ease of the new eTravel System. MIAA, DOTr and airline check-in counters need to inform passengers to use the eTravel app before their flights. eTravel can be completed 72 hours before their trips.

DICT, BI, Customs, MIAA and DOTr are now planning to initiate these promotional campaigns. Same for arriving OFWs because they don’t know about the eTravel and they are only asked to do it upon their arrival in our airports.

3. We’ll work closely with the Department of Migrant Workers to remove the manual Overseas Employment Certificate submission for our OFWs and transfer it to the eTravel System.

4. The removal of the Arrival/Departure Card, OneHealthPass, Tourism forms, airports forms and Customs form actually simplified a lot of things and majority of the passengers are now enjoying the said benefits of a simplified system.

5. After registration, passengers will no longer input the same information but just their airline details.

Room for improvement

I appreciate Usec. Almirol’s response but as I told him, moving forward, there is still so much room for improvement.

Beyond DICT, the government as a whole can already do away with the questions on health and sickness symptoms. There is no assurance anyway that they are getting the correct answers. They can already monitor arrivals from certain countries based on the flight information of passengers. Even first world countries have scrapped this requirement.

Similarly, the data on OFWs should already exist in our government’s database. This should automatically appear in the eTravel system. No need for OFWs to prove that they are OFWs every time they cross immigration.

Indeed, there’s still so much that can be done to simplify the system.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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