Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, intend to complain nor rant nor bash about the Singaporean immigration nor its people, I just want to express how degraded we felt when we crossed the Malaysia to Singapore border last March 2011. For the record, I loved Singapore but I just felt really insulted by the strong discrimination we experienced while crossing their border.
After a long day of walking around Kuala Lumpur, we had to call it a day and head back to Singapore from Malaysia via Aeroline deluxe coach. We were having a very pleasant and comfortable ride aboard Aeroline… until we reached the border of Malaysia going to Singapore as the butler woke us up and informed us to alight the bus and enter the border. And that’s when everything changed.
I consider myself a proud Filipina regardless of whatever stereotypes other nations deem Filipinos. As Eleonor Roosevelt would say, “No one could make you feel inferior without your consent”. And I have chosen to still stand tall regardless of whatever demeaning experience that I came across in the border. But sometimes, regardless of how you present yourself or prove yourself in another country, you will always be subject to the laws of their land– it’s their country, their rules, their laws, and they would still call the shots.
The border in between countries normally secures the immigration which decides and approves a person’s entry in the next country. Just as we thought that the border-crossing will be fast and convenient (as what we have experienced in Hong Kong and Macau), we all thought that we just needed to line up, bring our bags and passports, get stamps on our passports, and then go in a heartbeat. But it seemed that we woke up in a very bad dream, in a foreign land, with a situation that can nearly sentence us to death (if proven guilty).
Upon alighting the Aeroline coach, we were asked to line up and wait for our turns to have our passports stamped. But everything felt wrong when the immigration officials asked my friends and I (Pao, Eliza, and Francis) to step aside. What was wrong in this picture was that ALL THE OTHER NATIONALITIES managed to get their stamps in LESS THAN A MINUTE, while my FILIPINO friends and I were asked to step aside.
Search and check, search and check
This was when it got scary. Besides being asked to step aside, all our bags and possessions were taken to be examined. A piece of flat object, similar to that of a plastic card, was used to examine and detect each and every single piece of our belongings. Perhaps they were checking our belongings for traces of drugs or some illegal contraband. It was getting scarier by the minute as more and more of other nationalities were easily released and stamped while we, the only four Filipinos on the bus, were being meticulously checked, detained, and questioned about our identities. WE WERE CLUELESS WHY ALL THESE WERE HAPPENING TO US. Bakit kami lang? Dahil ba Pinoy kami feeling niyo lahat ng Pilipino masasama?
In Singapore, possession of drugs is tantamount to death penalty if proven guilty. “Death to drug traffickers” is a ubiquitous poster scattered all over Singapore thereby affirming that ignorance would never be an excuse to the law– especially in their country. Singapore is very much known as the Fine City.
That was the primary thought going through my head while we were continuously being searched and checked. Are we soooo dead? Will we ever get home? Will our parents ever see us again? –And then they asked us to step inside their office.
After they finished turning our bags upside down with their meticulous searching and checking, they asked us to enter their office. “Can you open your palm?” And I was like, what? Why do you need to take our fingerprints? Inside their office, they asked us to stretch out our hands as they record each and every fingerprint for the biometrics. “Are we considered as criminals now? Are we ever getting out of here alive? Was the biometrics even necessary? What could have we done for them to be that suspicious of us? We were just four friends who wanted to travel and see the world, and we get accused of something just because our passports identify us as Filipino citizens? –So many questions were running in my head and paranoia seemed to take over. But I had to think fast and I had to keep my composure because I knew panicking might make the situation even worse if they sense that I’m already starting to panic.
And that was the very moment that I felt that they stripped me off my dignity just because I am a Filipino. I felt degraded. I wanted to go home already. But our nightmare did not stop there.
I did not know when the detention will end. I just seriously wanted to get stamped and get released and just board the bus again. I don’t even know if the bus was still waiting for us or if the whole bus already left us. But that’s the least of my worries. I just wanted to stay alive.
After they got our biometrics, a Singaporean lady officer interrogated each one of us. Perhaps she wants to see if our statements were consistent and if we were really telling the truth about being tourists in their land. She even asked for some documents pertinent to our stay. She reviewed our plane tickets, our hotel reservations, our itinerary. Good thing I had the presence of mind to bring all the necessary travel documents to Malaysia. She was very meticulous with the process. Being two couples traveling, she even interrogated how we know each other. She confirmed if we were really a couple (boyfriend-girlfriend) or if we were just pretending to be one. We had to prove ourselves to her by straightforwardly answering her questions, even if we were dead tired and exhausted from our KL city tour.
It still was not over. (When oh when will it ever end???) I was asked to step aside and go with another officer in another cubicle and detail my life to the officer. I had to defend MY IDENTITY as they had my passport number and background checked while I was continued to be questioned. They asked me A LOT of questions: who I was, what I do for a living, the purpose of my visit to Singapore, how many days we intended on staying, and so many more questions regarding my visit. I was really scared to bits considering that I was the only one among my three other friends who was asked to step aside. But I knew being scared was not the emotion that will help me get through with the situation. I had to think fast and still keep my head up high despite them stripping of my dignity and robbing me off the last remaining chunks of energy that I had.
I just had to keep thinking straight and with all honesty that I was just really a traveling tourist who fell victim to the degraded image that other nations attribute to Filipinos.
After they finished asking me all the questions that they possibly could, they asked me to stand up. Go outside the cubicle and join my friends. My friends and I were obviously drained off all the energy that we had left. And all of us had the same glimmer in our eyes showing that we were just pretending to be brave even if the whole situation scared the hell out of us. I was actually tearing up, but I just had to fight it from flowing out. Our body languages to each other showed how uncomfortable we all were and how degraded we all felt. It was the lowest point of our travel experience to Singapore. Sure, we wanted to shout in anger towards the Singaporean government for being so harsh on us. We wanted to make their citizens feel the same when they come to visit our own country. But that was a childish thought. That is clearly not the mature thought to think. We were just perhaps enraged for what was done to us that we wanted them to have a taste of their own medicine. But that’s not the rational solution.
Finally after a tedious and exhausting process and after 50 minutes of detention, we were given our stamped passports and we were allowed to go. And I thanked God for that moment. I have been anticipating and praying for that moment to come. And I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Perhaps the immigration officer had to squeeze the juice out of us because she considered us guilty until we proved ourselves innocent. It was only when we got back to Manila when we found out that Filipinos were being sentenced to death in other countries due to cases of drug trafficking. In other words, Filipinos were caught as drug mules in another country, where they willingly expose themselves to such risky situations as they use their very own bodies to transport illegal drugs. Due to these incidents, other countries have been wary and suspicious of Filipinos, and generalized that all Filipinos are the same, even if you are just a tourist. One commits a crime, and the rest of the fellowmen take the blame for it. And this was the predicament we were in. We were being thoroughly checked for drugs at the time of our visit in Singapore-Malaysia just because we had to be generalized as a nation of drug couriers.
But not all Filipinos are what you think they are. I know that you are just doing your jobs, but the fact that you openly allowed entry to all the other nationalities and willfully denied Filipinos entry into your country was just really harsh and judgmental (because you charge each Filipino guilty until they prove themselves innocent to you) . Apart from that, you had to doubt us the moment we stepped foot on your border and immediately plastered an accusation towards us just because we were Filipinos. It’s just so painful that Filipinos have nothing but a negative image in other countries– TNTs, drug mules, and the like. The experience was just so rash and harsh that we really felt that we were stripped off our dignity.
Filipinos choose to leave the country as OFWs in search of greener pastures despite the gruesome mishandling and living conditions that they become subject to in other countries. They are Filipinos who just want to provide a better life for their families whom they have sacrificed to leave to give them better living conditions. But for the record, the Filipinos who are caught doing crimes are just a
small minute percentage of the Filipino population. I tell you, the Filipino people are a good bunch of people. So I am begging you not to judge each Filipino passport holder as someone who poses a potential threat to your country. Give us a chance and we’ll show you that we are very much deserving of that dignity you willingly strip off each Filipino passport holder. Please do not be very condescending towards us. We are good people if you only realize to give us a chance .
But yes, I do understand that you may be just following protocol and you were just doing your jobs. But please, do not generalize all of us just because some of our fellowmen committed crime in your countries. Please do not discriminate us as lowly citizens because I believe that each of us are still very much worthy of your respect. And I do understand that what happened to us may be part of the security measures that your country observes.
We seriously need an intense facelift as a nation in terms of our image as Filipinos. Other countries easily look down upon us and identify us with such rash judgments and we should show them that we are a nation filled with dignity as we are not inferior to them. And we demand that respect.
What I learned:
- No matter what accusation you are charged of, always humble yourself. Remember, you are in a foreign land, and you are subject to their laws and rules.
- Dress appropriately, look good, and feel confident (but not arrogant). Do not dress down and look like a poor girl on meager sustenance, but do not overdress nor wear skimpy clothes (you might be accused of being a prostitute).
- While crossing borders, make sure you have all the necessary travel documents (plane tickets, tour reservations, hotel bookings, etc) with you. Also, know the addresses of where you will be staying, people you will be meeting, and the like. It will be useful if circumstances like this arise.
- Traveling would not always be about rainbows and butterflies, and all the good things wrapped beautifully for us to see. Sometimes, misadventures get along the way, and that’s how we learn more about a nation’s culture.
- Keep your head high and be proud to be a Filipino despite the degrading discrimination they impose upon you.
- Do not let an incident like this discourage or dishearten you from traveling. Instead, take it as a challenge to show every country that Filipinos are actually a good bunch of people who are very much deserving to be treated as first class citizens.
- The moment you step out of the country, you become an ambassador of the country’s image. Be aware of everything you do and show them how Filipinos really are.
- Think like an adult. Whatever you do, remember that once you turn 21, all countries will consider you as an adult–whether you are ready or not.
- Make sure to look after your bags, luggage, etc while traveling. When carrying a stroller, make sure that you look after your stroller. If not, anyone can take advantage of your vulnerability and just slip in any kind of illegal item in there. If you can, watch your stroller, or walk side by side your stroller.
- Pray. and Keep on Praying. And there will always be the light at the end f the tunnel.