MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is moving towards increasing the agency's capacity to produce more passports to meet rising public demand.
The official said the goal is to produce 30,030 daily, from the system's current capacity of 19,030.
“We’ve already told them that they have to add printers. I have a draft letter to them, I communicated this verbally, they should put a printing machine in either the Europe or the Middle East and the US (missions) because we have 9 million passport holders abroad. I’ve also asked them to put one printing machine in the DFA central office,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano told lawmakers that the increase in the demand for passports can be attributed to the following factors: steady growth of the middle class; boom in international travel; increased availability of affordable airline options; opening of international airports outside Metro Manila; increase in the number of international flight options linking regional hubs such as Clark, Cebu, and Davao, among others to international destinations; attractive overseas employment opportunities for Filipinos; and growing population.
He said the DFA was able to handle the almost 20 percent demand surge from 2016 to 2017 using its existing complement of offices and personnel. No additional consular office or foreign post was created and no additional personnel was added to the plantilla, he said.
Cayetano added that from 2014 to 2015, the increase in passport production was 1,649 passports or .054 percent. Between 2015 and 2016, the increase was 57,790 passports or 1.89 percent, and from 2016 to 2017, the increase was 602,806 or 19.38 percent.
He also reported actions that the DFA has taken such as the removal of 1,200 appointment slots previously reserved daily for travel agencies on August 1, 2017; restriction effective the same date of DFA employees’ access and referral to the courtesy lane; increasing the daily processing capacity of consular offices; cancellation of bogus appointments; and overbooking of appointments.
Travel agencies are going to be offered Passport on Wheels (POW) services during travel fairs, he said.
Other reforms that the DFA has undertaken were streamlining the passport application requirements and process. It has also conducted innovative passport delivery mechanisms such as POW, which has been to 36 cities and municipalities since its launch on January 15 this year, serving 37,965 applicants.
The DFA has also begun processing passport applications on Saturdays at its main consular office in Aseana, Pasay City, making available 6,150 appointment slots and opening the courtesy lane to the following:
• Senior citizens and one family member
• Persons with disabilities and one family member
• Children 7 years old and below, their parents and minor siblings
• Pregnant women
• Returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)
• Solo parents and their minor children
A portal for first time OFWs was also launched on January 19, which allots 1,000 slots a day for applicants from the sector.
Cayetano also disclosed the opening of additional consular offices outside Metro Manila and four foreign service posts.
He also revealed that the e-payment system would be tested this week and is set for implementation before the end of the month.
Cayetano also told lawmakers during the hearing that the foreign office is considering various technologies for passport renewal, including the use of selfies and pictures of passports for the process. Cayetano said those with biometric records may no longer need to come in personally for renewals.
He also disclosed that 6 more POW vans with 5 machines each would be arriving in June even as he expects the backlog problem to be solved by as much as 80 percent by then.
He said the DFA has asked the Philippine National Police to help apprehend those selling slots for passport appointments.
Meanwhile, Cayetano said he is awaiting results of the Executive Secretary’s review of the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) and Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between APO and UGEC and the DFA for the printing of passports.
“I did not even look into it because at the time I got in, the ES told me he is already reviewing it and there are already opinions in from SFA and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel [Sal] Panelo.”
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay clarified he is not in favor of cancelling the contract altogether.
“I was not in favor of cancelling it. All I wanted [was] to make sure that the MOA we had signed with APO, which APO in fact assigned to UGEC, must be corrected to make sure DFA can also go after UGEC. Even up to now, we cannot hold UGEC liable. They are not a party to the MOA. This is the problem.”
“When I was still SFA, about 3 months down the road, the quota that the plant in Lima, Batangas was supposed to produce and deliver 12,000 to 16,000 passports daily. They went down to as low as 6,000. It was very critical... when I tried to inquire and come up with solutions I cannot hold UGEC liable for it. APO cannot also be held liable. The joint venture does not have a separate legal personality from the 2 investors.”