MANILA - A 2016 House inquiry uncovered supposed irregularities in the printing of passports but did not yield any concrete action after lawmakers were invited to a "field trip" sponsored by the subject of the probe, a former party-list lawmaker said Thursday.
The 2016 investigation, triggered by complaints on the delays in passport issuance, discovered that government printer APO Production Unit, Inc. tapped a private contractor in violation of its contract, said former Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque.
APO lacked printing machinery and entered an equipment lease agreement with private firm United Graphic Expression Corporation (UGEC), he said.
UGEC, however, provided not just the machinery, but also capital, employees and security for the Batangas printing facility, said Roque.
"Ang nag-iimprenta talaga ng ating passport ay itong UGEC... Nagpapanggap na equipment lease agreement pero ang totoo, sinubcontract ng APO iyan," he told radio DZMM.
(The real printer of our passport is UGEC. It was disguised as an equipment lease agreement, but in truth, it was subcontracted by APO.)
"Mayroon naman tayong RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) na nagsasabing wala dapat tayong binibiling serbisyo o bagay-bagay na hindi dumadaan sa public bidding," he added.
(Under RA 9184, we should not pay for service or anything that did not undergo public bidding.)
The hearing, he said, also summoned state auditors and found out that UGEC was bankrupt when it entered the deal.
"Kaya nga noong panahon na iyun, sabi ko bakit hindi maaantala ang pag-order ng mga passport, e bangkarote pala ang gumagawa," he said.
(At that time I said, why wouldn't passport orders be delayed when its maker is bankrupt.)
Passports should cost only P700, but applicants pay around P900 for it, added Roque.
He said nothing came out of the investigation after UGEC invited lawmakers to tour printing facilities in Europe.
"Ayun, pagkatapos ng field trip nila sa Europa, nawala na," he said.
(After their field trip in Europe, the issue was gone.)
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay earlier this week also said the passport set-up still exists because "some powerful members of Congress intervened... and said there was nothing wrong with the contract."
These lawmakers, he said, are members of the Commission on Appointments (CA).
The CA in 2017 rejected Yasay's ad interim appointment to the Cabinet after he allegedly lied about his US citizenship and passport.
The printing of passports made headlines again recently after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin claimed that a former private contractor "took all" passport data, making it inaccessible to APO.
The government, he said, had to rebuild its database for all passports issued before 2010.
However, Yasay said the former contractor, French firm Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare, could not have taken passport information because it only built a personalization system and did not have a copy of the data.
Oberthur's system had a different format from that of UGEC, but the government and its new contractor were too "embarrassed" to seek help from the French firm in resolving the issue, he said.
APO, for its part, already said it directly undertakes all printing services while UGEC handles other aspects "such as financing, accounting and procurement of supplies and materials."
Former Press Secretary Sonny Coloma also backed APO's claim.