Mr. Taylor Kitsch, 'Hello!' from the Philippines

Posted at 03/02/2012 9:16 PM | Updated as of 03/02/2012 9:19 PM

Mr. Taylor Kitsch, “Hello!” from the Philippines

It is with seriousness that I take into account the story related by Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch in an interview in the Late Show with David Letterman. As soon as it came to my attention, I immediately conducted an inquiry into his allegation.

My concern stems from the fact that such an allegation not only puts the Bureau of Customs (which I head) in a bad light but the country as well. For the past five months, I have been trying to reverse the negative image of the BOC, so incidents like this undermine those efforts.

Of course, the first thing I did was to watch the interview of Mr. Kitsch, since it was his direct narration of what happened. Mr. Kitsch described his experience as he arrived in the Philippines on board a flight from Japan. As he went through the arrival process, he described being called by an officer and told that he would be sent back to Japan, on the basis that his passport did not have enough space for the officer’s stamp.

Mr. Kitsch even described the scenario in detail, saying that “everyone was smoking, the oscillating fan there” while he was being questioned. He said that he was repeatedly told that he would be sent back to Japan. Later on, he said that he had to prove that he is an actor by showing a video of his movie from his iPhone.

It was at that point, he claimed, that the officer said, “can you get me one of those?”. Indeed, that is behavior that should not be tolerated. It was that which compelled me to conduct an inquiry, with the objective of disciplining or penalizing the officer.

Before I proceed with my findings, I think it’s best for the reader to watch the interview :

My findings:

1. Immediately after watching the interview, I noticed that what he was describing was an arrival process that was not within the mandate and function of the Bureau of Customs. It is not within the scope of work of Customs to ask for a traveler’s passport to put a stamp on it; and it is definitely not within the authority of Customs to send a passenger back on a flight outside the country and deny entry into the Philippines.

The Bureau of Customs is mandated to prevent the entry of contraband and the collection of Duties and Taxes for imported articles. A passenger is required to fill up a Customs Declaration Form and if he is carrying taxable items, he is supposed to indicate them in the form and submit it to the Customs officer as he goes out of the airport. If there is a declared taxable item, the Customs officer assesses the item and the passenger pays the Duty and Tax. In that process, the passport is not handled and definitely not stamped by a Customs officer.

Judging by the story of Mr. Kitsch, he most likely had been interacting with an Immigration officer. As with any international travel, a foreigner entering a country is first asked to present his passport for proper identification and verification by the immigration officials, for checking the visa if required and for stamping of the entry date and allowed length of stay in the country.

In some cases, a traveler is denied entry by Immigration for various reasons—an expired passport or visa, a travel ban, suspicion of criminal or terrorist involvement, human trafficking, and others. If a traveler is banned from entering, he is deported, that is, sent on the next flight out to his origin.

2. Looking further into the story of Mr. Kitsch, I inquired with our NAIA Customs Office for records of Mr. Kitsch’s declaration form, just to be sure. If he had submitted a declaration form, then I would have reviewed the CCTV footage of his arrival, to verify his story and determine the personnel involved. But there was no declaration submitted.

3. Next, our BOC office checked the manifests of flights coming into Manila. Since Mr. Kitsch said he came in from Japan, he could have arrived only via NAIA 1, where most international flights come in, or NAIA 2 where PAL flights arrive. There was no record of in the airline manifests of his arrival. My check with other sources revealed that he had a flight from Tokyo to New York last February 12, 2012. So his travel period would have been before that date.

4. I coordinated with the Bureau of Immigration to check their records for the entry of Mr. Kitsch. After a thorough search, Immigration did not find an arrival entry for Mr. Kitsch. Thinking that he might have had a different name in his passport and Taylor Kitsch was a screen name, I checked with US authorities and they confirmed that the name on his passport was Taylor Wade Kitsch, born April 8, 1981. In fact, he is a Canadian citizen. A simple internet search revealed the same information.

5. Information from well meaning netizens showed that the Oliver Stone film “Savages”, which Mr. Kitsch was said to be shooting, had its location shooting in Indonesia. The website, http://aaronjohnson.org/category/savages/, did not make any mention about the film having location shoots in the Philippines.

And observing the mania brought about by the Bourne Legacy shoot, the arrival of Mr. Kitsch in Manila, much more a shoot directed by Oliver Stone, wouldn’t have escaped the vigilant media and the star-struck Hollywood movie fans. But there was no news whatsoever of Mr. Kitsch’s Manila arrival.

6. I have yet to receive another piece of evidence that I asked before, but based on the foregoing, I feel confident that Mr. Kitsch was mistaken in saying that his bad experience during his travel was in the Philippines. While some say that it was Mr. Letterman who mentioned the Philippines, the fact is that Mr. Kitsch did not correct the TV host when he said, “…at the same time, you were making a film in the Philippines..” to which Mr. Kitsch immediately said, “oh yeah!”.

With regard to that additional piece of evidence, I am referring to a working visa that the Bureau of Immigration would have issued him if he indeed, was shooting in the Philippines. After all, he did say in his interview that he had a working visa which he alleged that the airport officer did not give notice to. Most likely, I will get feedback from the Bureau of Immigration after the weekend.

If Mr. Kitsch’s story is correct, it seems that he was mistaken with regard to the agency to which the officer was connected to. In the United States, customs and immigration services have since been combined after Sept 2011, when the Department of Homeland Security was created. Under that department, the US Customs and US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were combined to form the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which people simply called Customs.

In the Philippines, we have retained the separate and distinct services, the Bureau of Customs under the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Immigration under the Department of Justice.

But what is becoming more apparent is that Mr. Kitsch was mistaken with regard to the country he was talking about. Not having a record of his visit here and his film having a shoot in another country only means his story lacks the factual basis.

Unfortunately, the damage was done. People immediately reacted negatively to the BOC without giving the benefit of an inquiry into the basis of what the foreign actor was saying. Perhaps it is due to the incidents in the past that have plagued the agency. Perhaps people have heard too many horror stories from passengers passing through our airports.

But I guarantee the public that I will not tolerate such behavior. I have constantly conveyed to my fellow workers in the Bureau of Customs our need to rehabilitate our image and the only way to do it is for us to act in a manner worthy of the people’s respect. If incidents like that occur, I am sure to immediately look into it and act correspondingly. Discipline those who err and commend those who do good.

In the meantime, Mr. Kitsch, perhaps you can help us redeem our lost pride. Not just my agency, but my country as well.