PPP: Perennial Passport Problem

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez - The Philippine Star

Even before joining the Department of Foreign Affairs, I have already been hearing about numerous problems that people encounter when they apply for passports. It was even worse for applicants in the provinces because they had to endure long lines – with many of them sleeping on pavements outside DFA consular offices – just to make sure their applications are processed within the day so they won’t have to spend extra for transportation going home and then back to the provincial DFA office the next day. 

And then there was also the long wait before passports are released, which used to take as long as three months. That is, if there is no delay in the issuance of the passport. Overseas Filipino workers were among those who suffered costly consequences because the delays cost them their jobs abroad since they were unable to report on time.  

Admittedly, many improvements have been introduced over the years, such as the “Passport on Wheels” program where DFA vans are deployed to schools, hospitals, villages, government offices and local government units (LGUs) to serve more people. Aside from the opening of more satellite offices, the online application system through the DFA website was also launched to facilitate the process and accommodate more applicants. However, the online process also proved to be frustrating because a slot could disappear if one is unable to input all the required data within 20 minutes due to internet interruptions or connectivity issues. 

The online system also became the subject of numerous complaints as it soon became quite difficult to obtain an appointment through the DFA website, with all the slots for the next three months already full – although new slots would become available every now and then if online applicants fail to pay within the prescribed time. But according to reports, another reason why it became difficult for individual applicants to obtain an online appointment was due to the old practice of reserving (as many as 1,200) appointment slots for travel agencies through the DFA website. 

There were also accusations that some DFA officials were in cahoots with fixers who would “sell” appointment slots through “endorsements” which allow an applicant to use the courtesy lane to apply for new passports, or renew old or lapsed ones, even without a prior schedule or appointment. The courtesy lane is designated for senior citizens, overseas Filipino workers, pregnant women, young children and persons with disability.

When the validity of the passport was extended to 10 years, the number of applicants for passport renewals multiplied a hundred times, with more people wanting to change their existing passports even if the expiration period is still a few years away – exacerbating the backlog of requests. I have suggested to the DFA that they limit the renewal of passports to those whose expiration is a year or less. For instance, if the expiration date of the passport is still three years away, the applicant should not be allowed to renew it until the validity is down to one year. But at some point, we really need to produce or print more passports at a speedier pace, and make the system simpler and more efficient for applicants. 

Secretary Teddy Locsin is doing all he can to address the problem regarding passports – and already he is going at it head on. His plan to accept the old passport as proof of birth is a good start. As for the controversy regarding breach of applicants’ data, he has assured the public that there is no security risk involved. Apparently, the data has not been stolen but only made inaccessible at the moment because the contract with the outsourced passport maker has been terminated. As such, the “personalization system” format of the new supplier is not compatible with that of the old supplier, resulting in the inability to access data.  

I have known Secretary Locsin to be a straight shooter who does not mince words and has a knack for meeting the problem head-on. He has been getting a lot of support from many people since he approaches issues and problems not from a bureaucratic standpoint but from a public perspective. His order to drop the birth certificate requirement for renewal applicants for instance has been met with resounding approval because it is not only sensible but also a practical decision. 

No doubt some people are trying to subvert his efforts to improve the system at the DFA – something that Secretary Locsin is well aware of, tweeting that, “Those behind the passport mess will launch a social media campaign against me. I will identify them.”

I totally support Teddy Boy not only because he is a friend or the Secretary but because I know him as someone who wants to do what is right, with no political agenda. His perspective has been sharpened by his experience during his stint as a congressman. 

Obviously, there are a lot of political undertones with regard to the passport controversy. I know there are many career officials in the DFA who are not only competent but also dedicated public servants. However, there are a few rotten overly ambitious eggs who are “territorial” and resent political appointees. 

Political appointees have a purpose – we are temporary government workers who try to solve problems without worrying how it would affect our tenure or job security down the line. You can be sure that when Teddy Boy and I go back to our old media jobs, we will have a field day exposing some of these rotten eggs who continuously and intentionally make things complicated and difficult just to bring down political appointees.

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Email: [email protected].

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