MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) defended on Sunday its recent decision to remove the accreditation requirements for travel agencies offering passport services to the public..
The DFA denied the decision discriminates against travel agencies, saying it is part of a whole range of measures being undertaken to further improve the delivery of consular services.
"We would like to make it clear that the directive we issued in May as well as the latest guidelines allowing accredited travel agencies to transact with us only until the end of the year are not intended to drive travel agencies out of business," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Administration Rafael E. Seguis said in a statement.
"In fact, the guidelines do not prevent travel agencies from assisting those who are willing and have the means to avail themselves of the services they offer. The guidelines are intended to allow ordinary passport applicants to enjoy the same special treatment travel agency clients enjoy but at no extra cost to them."
Seguis explained that travel agencies have long benefitted from special privileges that allowed them to accept, pre-process and, until the recent introduction of the electronic passport, even file applications on behalf of their clients.
These privileges, he said, include guaranteed same-day processing and dedicated express lanes for applicants who come to them for assistance.
While travel agency-assisted applicants shell out anywhere from P1,800 to P7,000 for these privileges, Seguis said the DFA only collects from them P1,200 for expedited processing -- the same amount paid by ordinary passport applicants for the same expedited processing --and the P500 accreditation annual fee collected from each of the 551 accredited travel agencies.
"Unfortunately, unlike travel agency clients who can breeze through the application process, ordinary applicants have to come to our offices as early as midnight and wait in line for hours before they could be served," the DFA official said.
"We strongly felt there was a need to correct this situation as it is inconsistent with the steps that we have been taking to improve the delivery of our consular services, such as the transfer of our offices to better facilities inside shopping malls, that we hope would finally eliminate the long lines that have been associated with the passport application process," he added.
In addition to the transfer of passport offices to shopping malls, Seguis said the other measures being undertaken by the DFA include: the acceptance of passport applications in these mall-based offices from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; releasing of passports half-days during Sundays; and the activation before the end of the year of a dedicated call center for applicants to schedule their appointments at their preferred location and schedule.