It was a dark, dark night. I run into the airport, looking for the officer I had seen awhile ago.
“Has the plane left yet?” I ask him, hurdling one of my bags over my shoulder.
He doesn’t move and I shake him.
“Sir, sir, has the plane left yet?” I rattle him again and his freaky smile faded. I stepped back, taken by the creepiness of his behavior.
Then, suddenly he started laughing. You know Joker’s laugh? The one that ultimately bounces off the walls of the ceilings until it ringers in your ear? Yes, that creepy laugh that brought goosebumps to my skin.
I took another step back, freeing the space so if I needed to make a run for it, I could. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring my suitcases though.
What was happening? Suddenly, I turned and the man with the Joker’s laugh wasn’t there. Literally.
Composing myself and patting down my wrinkled shirt, I tried convincing myself I was just nervous and tired. Once I paid the airport tax and travel tax, I headed on to the Immigration.
The line going up to the Immigration was long and people were packed into such a small place. I closed my eyes and breathed, hoping I wouldn’t get claustrophobic. At the same time, I didn’t want to look inexperienced or suspicious.
“Miss?” a man called and I opened my eyes to find that everyone around me had gone. I shuddered, suddenly feeling all alone in the airport.
I was now by myself, alone in front of the Immigration desk. Slightly relieved, but a little confused, I stepped up, hauling along my backpack.
“So, why are you going to Singapore?” the man asks, his voice echoing around the room.
I look around, rattled by the deep voice that bounced off around me, in the now-empty room.
“I’m going to tour Singapore and visit my sister,” I tell him.
“You’re not going to look for a job?” he asks again and the same thing happened to his voice.
“No, I have a job,” I inform him.
“Can I see your company ID?” he demands, his voice getting a little irritated.
“I don’t have one yet, Sir,” I say, a little shocked, because I didn’t know I needed one.
And then he peers over me from his high-desk, his eyes blazing red, like fire and his angrily stamps on my passport. He shoves the passport in my face and he starts laughing.
“DENIED!” he shouts, between laughter.
“All your work in preparing for this trip? DENIED!” he says, “the money and time you’ve spent for this? DENIED!” he shouts louder and his voice ringers in my ear, enough for me to get a third and a fourth repeat of everything he says, “Your dream to travel the world? DENIED!”
“No.” I refuse to believe, “No!” I scream.
And I wake up, rustled in bed, tangled in my sheets, sweating like I’d just been rained on, eyes red and cheeks stained.
Funny, how a traumatic experience can lead you to days when all you ever dream about is the same thing over and over again.
This is how it’s been since April 13, 2012 while taking my first solo flight out of the country and my first flight in Clark.
While I now look onto what happened as a great, learning experience, back then, during that time, I wasn’t just traumatized. I was distraught.
At 22 years old, I’ve been out of the country (heck, I grew up out of the country!), more than once and I’ve traveled in some places around the country as well. Since Immigration doesn’t count your blog posts, your experience around the country or your dream and hunger to travel the world, they have no idea what it’s like to feel like you’re being robbed out of everything you’ve worked for. They have no idea what it’s like to feel so small, so young, so embarrassed and so inexperienced in a world where rules aren’t always followed, but broken, where laws aren’t stated, but demanded.
While in line for Immigration at Clark, I was already nervous. I’ve already read lots of posts about the Clark Immigration and how unfair they can be in deciding who to let through and who to torment further.
But I never thought it would happen to me. After all, I am 22 years old, I just sometimes, look like a minor.
Once the Immigration Officer called me up to the desk, he asks me a few questions.
Just like co-blogger Izah Morales had mentioned in her blog post, the officer asked me questions, including:
“Why are you going to Singapore?”
My answer: I’m going on my post-graduation trip to tour Singapore and Malaysia. I’ll also be visiting my sister who lives there.
“Are you alone?”
My answer: Yes, I am.
“Are you going to find work in Singapore?”
“No. I’m currently employed in Makati as Editor”
and the most puzzling question of all –
“What school did you graduate from?”
While Izah may have been able to prove her credibility with her school’s name, was it my school’s name that ultimately decided I would need second questioning?
Yes, Our Lady of Fatima University, my Alma Mater which I am very proud of, may not be the same as other prestigious schools in the country, but was that really how the Immigration Officer finalized his decision? If I had answered University of the Philippines or maybe, University of Santo Tomas, would he have decided otherwise?
Honestly, I thought of lying, but before I answered, I knew I wouldn’t be able to. Why would I lie? I was proud of where I graduated. In reality, it stung to realize that yes, that may have had an effect in the decision making of the officer.
“Step aside,” the officer rumbles on and hands my passport and documents to the lady officer, who leads me to a separated section for second questioning.
In this section, several other women sat inside. Yes, we were all women.
They handed me a piece of paper with more questions – name, address, how much I brought to the trip, if I had a hotel, where I might be staying at, how many days, purpose of the trip, employment and more.
I filled it out as quickly as I could, especially because my plane would be boarding in about 15 minutes.
I waited until I was called, impatiently, afraid that my plane would leave me, crestfallen, as if knowing something was about to happen.
My heart beat fast throughout this moment and I was scared all my 3 months of planning would all go to waste. I watched as an American guy began shouting. Apparently, his girlfriend got denied by an Immigration officer because they hadn’t taken up some sort of “seminar” and lacked documents.
I watched as the Immigration Officer tried to calm him down and even called the police. When she turned, she started mumbling some harsh words about him. The scene freaked me out and I hated the officer for showing me a side of the Immigration I didn’t want to see.
If I was in trouble in another country, would their Immigration officers treat me the same way? I don’t ever want to know.
When the Immigration Office called me for my questioning, she asked me the same questions the man did. I even showed her my return ticket which would be from Kuala Lumpur and she replied:
“Aanhin ko yan?” / “What will I do with that?”
Then she interrogated me about my sister in Singapore.
“Where is your sister’s passport? Why don’t you have a copy of your sister’s OEC?”
My initial reaction: “What the f%^E% is an OEC?”
She says: “Alam mo, ang dali mo sana payagan eh, kung dala-dala mo sana ang tamang dokumento.” / “You know, I could’ve let you in sooner, you know. If only you brought the right documents,”
Then it happened. She stamped my papers as Denied Exit and told me to fax my sister’s passport and OEC to the Clark airport.
I literally thought my world would crumble. That’s not an exaggeration.
There I was, off to my post-graduation gift for myself and I was denied of it because I didn’t have the “right documents”.
I was ashamed. I was disappointed. I was distraught.
Beyond all of these things that I felt, I was confused.
It was only after that I realized – “Why would she need my sister’s OEC, when I’m of legal age?”
At 22 years old, even if I’ve just graduated, I was already working then. I’ve been a part time freelance writer for over 4 years now and I’ve started full time as an Editor in a company in Makati, even before I graduated. I earn above average. I am capable of funding my travels. Why would I need my sister’s OEC?
I understand, you see. I do. I’ve run the scenario over and over in my head. I’ve dreamt about it so many times that I feel like vomiting once I’ve woken up. I understand their authority to determine who they can let pass and whom not to let through. I understand their want or need to protect women abroad from human trafficking. I understand that I look too young. I understand that Clark Airport Immigration is only trying to protect Filipinos from the dangers of being abroad. I understand that there may have been rules and regulations that people have to follow to get through.
I’ve played the scene so many times in my head, especially when I finally got through after 8 HOURS and I was reminiscing everything in my mind. I understand.
And I don’t blame them. Not really. I just wish they would’ve informed people of these documents that people may need.
I wasn’t the only one denied entrance, you see. There was a mother there, but mostly there were girlfriends or wives of Western men. I didn’t ask what the mother lacked. And my heart was so drained I didn’t even ask why I needed my sister’s OEC.
But these girlfriends – some of them don’t know about these requirements. Just like I had no idea why I’d need my sister’s OEC and passport. Would I still need it when I travel to Kota Kinabalu in August? Would I still be asked for my sister’s passport? Would it have made a difference if I hadn’t mentioned my sister at all? Or would I still be denied overall?
What are the requirements for every passenger for each country? What is their legal basis for asking for these requirements? Are these requirements even public? Or do these officers just think them up, out of the blue? What about the next girl, like me? One who is of legal age, but looks young. Do they even know they need these requirements? Or did some of them actually pass through the Immigration?
I remember sitting in Clark Airport and the Immigration Officer telling me to rebook my ticket once my sister had faxed the requirements.
Yeah, like that’s gonna be cheap, I thought.
I spent the 8 hours mourning my plans. Mourning my ready-made itinerary. Mourning the experiences I could’ve had. Mourning the fact that I should’ve been in Singapore at that moment. Mourning all of my hard work. Mourning my post-graduation present that I know I deserve. I repeatedly tried not to get my hopes up. I repeatedly tried not to hope for good news. I was getting ready to mourn the whole trip.
In the end, despite the emotionally traumatic experience I had in Clark, I realized I was lucky. I realized that I was so lucky to know some of the best people in the world. I realized, beyond every shame, embarrassment, confidence-breaking, hatred, tiring emotion I had; I wasn’t the one having the worst day that day.
Thank God I had a great time in my Singapore – Malaysia – Indonesia trip. Thank God that all of this trauma was worth the time I spent abroad. Thank God because really, if it hadn’t been worth it, I may not be able to recover from this.
But I have and I’m going to try again this August.
Special thanks, of course to Renz Bulseco of Traveling Nomad and Laken Riel who followed me to Clark Airport that day to wait for me and bring me food, even if I didn’t get to go out and I didn’t get to eat anything. Thank you so much for not leaving me there.
Special thanks to South East Asian Airlines for making my second trip possible.
Of course, many, many thanks to Mr. Julian Abunales, Ms. Ela Comandao, Mr. Gilbert Reyes and Mr. Leo Gimena of Southeast Asian Airlines for making the experience bearable and the trip possible. Thank you for being the support I had at Clark.