A POLITICAL diplomatic appointee on Tuesday claimed the National Bureau of Investigation was looking into a probability of government officials and even employees in collussion with passport fixers.
In an ambush interview at the sideline of a Congress hearing, Foreign Undersecretary Jose Luis Montales claimed there were some “high profile” officials or employees of the government who receive money in exchange for appointment slots made by fixers.
“Remember that we have to accommodate endorsement from the government agencies. So these fixers pay some govrnment employees…to get endorsements to use the courtesy lane,” he said.
“Some of them even occupy high positions, not knowing the slot was being sold by a fixer,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association dismissed the idea that clients were being required to purchase tickets from them on top of the passport services—following the issue of canceled passport appointment slots for travel agencies.
According to PTAA president Marlene Dado Jante, travel agencies said it was their duty to assist in passport processing without forcing clients to avail themselves of any additional travel tickets or packages from their respective members.
Jante said the current difficulty in getting passport appointment slots could have been avoided had the Department of Foreign Affairs maintained the current 1,000 daily slots for travel agencies.
“Our job is to assist our clients in their travel needs. These include passport processing without any strings attached. PTAA members have never forced their clients to avail (themselves) of their other services in exchange for assisting with their passport applications,” Jante said.
She added: “We also do not discriminate. We provide service across all sectors of society. Passport processing was more efficient in the past when travel agencies were involved. It is a fact that the DFA cannot refute.”
DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said under the Passport Act of 1996, priority should be given to persons with disability, pregnant, women with children who are less than seven years old, those who have children less than 10 years old, single parents, senior citizens, and overseas Filipino workers.
Cayetano also insinuated that those who go to travel agencies need to purchase tickets to easily avail themselves of passport slots.
However, the same law which Cayetano mentioned also stated under Section 6 that travel agencies were allowed to process passport applications.
“In case of renewal, the application may be filed by any licensed travel agency duly accredited by the Department of Foreign Affairs: Provided that the agent shall be responsible for the authenticity or bona fide of the supporting documents being presented to meet the requirements for the application of passports,” the law said.
The PTAA has also denounced fraudulent online transactions by individuals claiming to be travel agents.
“We have been continuously urging the public to transact only with legitimate and accredited travel agencies. The DFA has yet to prove that any of our members are engaged in any malicious activities,” Jante said.
The DFA claims to currently processes anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 passport applications daily.
The DFA has been flooded with criticisms after thousands of Filipinos waited for months to secure passport application appointment through its official website.
“Some people are selling endorsements from government agencies, that’s the reaility,” said Montales, who handles consular concerns.
But he downplayed such scheme and stressed the problem of selling passport endorsement was not “widespread”.
Currently, he said, the NBI and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Pplice were now conducting a probe against agencies behind this scheme.
He insisted that these fixers could no longer obtain schedule through the DFA’s online appointment but through courtesy lanes and endorsements.
Endorsements are benefits given to officials and with special cases who need to apply for passports and passport renewal without the need to obtain appoitments through the DFA website.
The applicants endorsed by certain government officials and employees were made to queue up through its courtest lane, designated for senior citizens, children, pregnant, overseas Filipino workers, and persons with disability.
“Courtesy of ManilaStandard.net”