By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — The embassy of the United States in the Philippines on February 10 denied reports circulating on social media that Washington revoked tourist visas for Filipinos with current and existing B1 and B2 visas from February 15 due to the novel corona-virus and President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“The US Embassy in the Philippines is aware of a fraudulent advisory alleging the cancellation/revocation of tourist visas and the suspension of visa applications. These claims are not true,” US Embassy spokesperson Heather Fabrikant said in a statement, insisting the US visa policy in the Philippines has not changed.

“Impostors spread misinformation by claiming to be an official U.S. source. The official U.S. Embassy website at https://ph.usembassy.gov/ and our official social media platforms are the best sources for accurate and current information,” Fabrikant added.

The US Embassy also advised the public to refer only to its official website and social media accounts to access accurate information and to report visa and passport fraud via e-mail to FPMManila@state.gov.

As of Monday novel corona-virus has killed 908 people and infected more than 40,000 people across 26 countries, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the outbreak a global health emergency.

The outbreak has prompted countries, including the Philippines and the US, to impose strict travel restrictions.

DOTr: US Transportation Security Administration note improvements in NAIA security

In a report by The Philippine Star, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) announced on February 9 that the audit of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had no findings as inspectors were satisfied with security measures at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The audit of TSA and the Philippines’ Office for Transportation Security finished earlier in the week, covering terminals and US-bound airlines operating at NAIA.

In August 2019, the US Department of Homeland Security lifted a December 2018 advisory over deficient security at NAIA.

“After months of direct engagement with the United States, the government of the Philippines has made significant improvements to its security operations. Both the Manila International Airport Authority and the government of the Philippines civil aviation security authorities have demonstrated they are willing to work toward sustaining those improvements,” it said in 2019.

Moreover, the US State Department provided $5 million for training and technology to help improve airport security in the Philippines.

DOTr said auditors from the TSA and from the Philippines’ Office for Transportation Security finished the audit of terminals and US-bound airlines operating at NAIA earlier in the week.

“We are grateful with the improvements made by the government specifically in collaboration with the OTS,” TSA lead inspector Jose Liriano said, noting the audit team also appreciated the new technologies and equipment provided.

DOTr Sec. Arthur Tugade attributed the security improvements at NAIA to the coordination among the department’s agencies like the OTS and Manila International Airport Authority, with the audit covering airport operations including aircraft security, passenger and baggage screening, training of security personnel and compliance with international civil aviation security standards.

“Security is a commitment, it is a continuous process,” Tugade said.

“While we are happy with this news, we must remember that the more important thing is that we sustain and consistently improve our efforts to ensure the safety and security of the passengers.”

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