I was excited for the longest time! I’ve been wanting to cross off one of my bucket list items and I thought I would be able to do that this week. Unfortunately, something surprising happened when I arrived at Singapore for the first time. My excitement was killed in an instant and my supposed to be fun cruise suddenly became just a dream :’(
I’m holding a Taiwan passport but I live in the Philippines. I’m 100% pinoy at heart but I got the passport as one of my parents has one. I travel a lot and never had any problems with visas, re-entry permits or passports. I’ve visited the U.S., Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, and China with no problems whatsoever. Everything went smoothly.
All those changed when I arrived at Changi Airport last thursday night. It was my first time in Singapore and I was so happy when we arrived. I was like a kid jumping up and down. I even checked in via foursquare and was raving about my arrival in the country. I never thought that I’d be put into a bad situation then.
When I arrived at the Immigration booth, the person was staring at my passport. He stood up and went to the Immigration Officer, went back and told me to proceed there at the Immigration Office. I thought they will just question me for a few minutes but never thought that as soon as I get to the booth, I got shouted with “We’ll deport you, go tell your friends to go ahead.” I showed him my I-Card from the Philippines and also showed the payment I made at the Philippine Immigration before arriving in Singapore. The guy said he doesn’t care about the Philippines I-card. What Singapore is looking for is a re-entry permit from the Taiwan embassy/TECO in the Philippines. I was shocked! I called up an employee of TECO and asked about it. I was then informed that there’s a NEW regulation effective February this year that all Taiwan Passport holders living in the Philippines should secure a re-entry permit from TECO before going to Singapore.
Of course, I was totally shocked!! Why the hell would they do such a thing??? so our Taiwan passports are useless?? We weren’t informed and I was astounded! The TECO employee I talked to asked me why the travel agency didn’t tell me. I was like, only a few percentage of the Philippines’ population book flights from travel agencies anymore as it’s so much cheaper and convenient buying airfare directly from the airlines.
I appealed to the Singaporean Immigration officer but he was not sympathetic. He was saying in a very loud voice that Taiwan doesn’t even recognize my passport so they won’t recognize it too. I was asking if I could get it from the Taiwan embassy in Singapore but they just shut me off.
I told my travel companions about the problem. I was supposed to join the AirPhil Express team and some co-media partners to experience the new offering of the airline: the Fly & Sail Adventour Package. AirPhil Express tried their best to help me out, they called the Singapore Tourism Board, they also tried to book me a flight back to Manila on the same night. However, the Singapore Immigration Office was so firm that they don’t want to accept any requests.
What I really don’t understand is… even if I’m paying extra just to be able to go back home the soonest to the Philippines. The Singapore Immigration just didn’t wanna allow it. I mean….. they wanted to deport me right? Then why didn’t they allow me to go back to the Philippines faster? Why do they want me to be detained in their airport jail for 24 excruciating hours??????
Reality finally set in. I started to cry while I bid goodbye to my friends. The Immigration officers asked me to wait in the office and then for a few minutes, a police arrived. The police immediately asked me to shut down my phone and told me to walk with him to the security office where I’ll need to stay for 24 hours. I asked him, “Is that really necessary?”. The police then said, “Do you want me to handcuff you?”.
Sadness started to fill in. I just lost the chance to go on a fun cruise, I won’t be able to cross off one of my bucket list items, I spent money on Malaysian visa and Immigration fee but yet they are useless, took 2-day leave from work but yet those days are wasted, I thought I’d be having the most fun this weekend but it looked to be one of the worst ever.
All communications were cut off because like all criminals, you can’t contact anyone. I was escorted all the way to the security office in Changi airport. I have to endure all those weird look by the people in the airport. The situation looked like I’ve been caught with drugs or something. It wasn’t a good feeling at all. I was totally alone in a totally foreign place and any other connection that I can have with my friends at home were cut off.
We entered through a door, climbed up the steps then entered a secured place. I was asked to surrender all my stuff, put them into the locker. They asked me to get a pillow and a bed sheet (serves as blanket). I was asked to stay in a room full of double-deck beds. In all honesty, it looked exactly like a prison cell! The only difference is there are no bars but instead, there’s a door. It was not a comfortable room, you get to share the room with the rest of the tourists who are detained (just like in a prison). There were about 6 double deck beds in a small, small room. When I entered, the room was completely dark, full of Vietnamese detainees. They all looked at me weirdly and I got scared. I went out of the room ASAP.
not the actual picture, just looks like it.
The police office is right in the middle. They have full view of the whole place so they can monitor each one of us. Every part of the place has CCTV cameras too. I really started breaking down. I was crying nonstop. I don’t have my friends with me, can’t contact anyone from the Philippines, I don’t have my things with me and I was totally alone. The police saw me crying and said, “Immigration is watching you. You have to stop crying, we’ll put a remark in your record and it might be hard for you to come back to Singapore.”
Is it a crime to be sad?? Am I not allowed to cry?? I just lost the chance to go on a cruise! I just lost all communications! I had to endure that awful place for 24 hours! Is crying a crime now???!?
Food are being served three times a day in the security office. Bread, coffee and tea for breakfast, rice meals for lunch and dinner. We are only allowed to go out of the room 8AM to 12midnight. We have to stay inside the room 12 midnight to 8AM.
Outside the rooms, there’s television and several bench to sit at. Since we don’t have any stuff with us, all we can do is sleep and watch TV.
I had the shock of my life when I entered the washroom. There wasn’t any toilet bowls at all but a squat-type bowl. It was dirty and I was really scared. I asked the police if I can go to the bathroom in the airport, they can escort me if they want to. The police got mad and said, “Can’t you understand english? You can’t get out of this place.”
not the actual picture, just looks like it.
In fairness, some of the police took pity on me. One of them even told me that they’ve been getting a lot of cases such as mine and he also thought that we are also just ignorant of the new regulation by Singapore. He was giving small talks too like he went to the Philippines before. He was also teaching me what to do the next time I go back to Singapore so I don’t get to experience the same thing again.
I spent the night crying in the room in my designated bed. I woke up with big swollen eyes. I felt a bit better when I saw 2 Filipinas in the outside area. I started talking to them. They told me they got caught because they were victimized by their employment agency. Apparently, they were illegally recruited so they were sent home. The night before, I was able to talk to a chinese who swore to me that she’ll never go back to Singapore after what we’ve been through. Her situation was Singapore only allows people like her to visit the country once every 6 months. She just came back from Singapore 2 months back so this time around, she was not admitted. She didn’t know about the regulation and because our phones were confiscated, she wasn’t able to contact anyone too.
I spent the whole morning and afternoon watching TV. I was glued to my seat as I can’t walk around. I tried to walk around the room but I was apprehended. I felt like I already memorized the TV shows in the channel. Do you know that one of our ABS-CBN teleseryes are being shown on Singapore TV? I saw Kim Chiu, Gerald Anderson and Jake Cuenca’s TV show there.
I felt so much better when another set of Filipinas came in. Two of them were also supposed to join the cruise. Just like me, they are holding Taiwan passports. The only good thing I can think of in this situation is I got to meet new friends. I exchanged names with the 2 new friends I met inside, I tried to remember their names and I searched for them in Facebook when I got home earlier.
One thing I also learned is to do major research. Rules and regulations change often. Another thing that I must do ASAP is to apply for a Filipino passport. I swear, I’m giving up this Taiwan passport. It’s such a pain in the a$$.
My flight was scheduled 8:50PM. I was praying and hoping that the girl Singapore police named Yana won’t be escorting me. She has been pretty mean to me since I came in. I don’t know why but why do girls hate fellow women??? I mean, she was really power tripping. I was practically begging her if I can use the phone as noone knows I’m coming home. Everyone was worried and I need to tell my friends that I’m safe and I’m going back to my beloved country, the Philippines. She was firm and told me she won’t allow me to open my phone. I was already going back to the Philippines yet she still didn’t allow me to use my phone even if I’m already out of that security jail. It’s a good thing that I asked permission from the immigration officers and they allowed me so that EVIL Yana didn’t have any choice but to let me use my phone while waiting to aboard my flight back to the Philippines.
It was a unique experience but something I really don’t wanna go through again. I was escorted by that Yana until I get inside the plane. Everyone was looking at me like a criminal. I feel ashamed, embarrassed and sad. I was planning for a fun-filled trip but I ended up spending 24 hours locked in a security room.
My passport is still confiscated that time. I can only get it when Philippine immigration clears me. When I got back to the Philippines, even the immigration officers were shocked why I was detained. They were surprised that Singapore didn’t honor the Immigration card issued by the Philippines. Apparently, this is new to everyone including our very own immigration!
Oh, before I forget, we even have to pay for the ‘accommodation’ in Singapore. My 24 hour stay is worth three hundred eighty-four singapore dollars. This definitely wins the award for the worst accommodation in the world.
UPDATE (08/21/2011 10:22PM):
Someone by the alias of Passerby posted detailed information on this new regulation that I initially thought was implemented by TECO. Apparently, it was Singapore who enforced this regulation without warning this year and not TECO. Here’s the complete comment:
Posted by Passerby (August 21, 2011 09:14 PM)
First, I’m sorry about your terrible experience. I believe the treatment you received was unacceptable and unexpectedly harsh.
Second, I’d like to clarify that this regulation was implemented by Singapore authorities and NOT TECO. Based on my research (countless phone calls to both TECO and the Singapore Embassy in the Philippines), acquaintances’ accounts and personal experience, this regulation was enforced without warning in early 2011–around February, I think. TECO was NOT informed by Singaporean authorities prior to the implementation of this new regulation. In fact, the TECO staff only found out about it when an influx of passengers who got “A to A” (airport to airport–that is, Singapore airport back to Manila airport) arrived at the TECO office requesting for rushed entry permits. Travel agencies did not know about this regulation, and apparently, neither did local airline companies like Cebu Pacific and PAL. It was only after several weeks that TECO was formally informed of this new regulation–several weeks that brought many irate passengers to TECO, demanding to know why the latter did not inform them of this rule.
So, there. I hope this clears things up.