My Panorama column: On world-class passports

Very soon, Filipino travelers would no longer have to suffer the embarrassment of being made to wait until the immigration officer inspects the antiquated Philippine passports issued by the government.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, a temporary restraining order issued by a Pasig City judge against the e-passport program of the Department of Foreign Affairs has been lifted. This means that by the third quarter of the year, the DFA will now start issuing the e-passports, which bear an IC chip and additional security features.

Senator Mar Roxas, an ardent supporter of the e-passport program, said the transition from manually-processed, tamper-friendly passports to the modern, electronic passport is a leapfrog from the Jurassic Age to the Matrix Era.

“More than the Anti-Terror Law, modernizing our passports is a concrete step towards protecting our national security without any diminution of our civil liberties,” he said. I accompanied the senator during his walk-through at the DFA’s passport division with Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Rafael Seguis. We saw how a room of employees spent the entire day writing the names of passport applicants and attaching photos to the passports by hand.

Assistant Secretary Doy Lucenario said the new passports will be in maroon color and would have more pages. It will also cost a little higher because of the IC chip that will be embedded in every e-passport. The cost, however, is not expected to surpass the P1,100 approved amount for the doomed machine-readable BOT project that was initially proposed by a private consortium known as BCA International/PhilPass.

I remember when my late father was Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he assigned our legal counsel to examine the BOT agreement guided solely by the people’s interests. Our lawyer, Atty. Rey Robles of ChanRobles & Associates, recommended to Secretary Ople that the contract be sent to the Department of Justice for legal opinion. This request was acted upon because the BOT agreement was not as favorable to the people as some projected it to be. Soon enough, the DOJ rendered an opinion supporting my father’s position but by then he had passed away. My father’s good friend, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo did the right and noble thing of rescinding this BOT Agreement.

Global Filipinos now found in every nook and corner of the world have long made the transition from mediocrity to world-class excellence. Certainly, our citizens deserve to have the best and most modern passports available. Unfortunately, this legal battle over a grossly disadvantageous BOT contract proved to be a stumbling block over the years. With a pro-active decision by the Supreme Court, this stumbling block has now been removed.

Around 95% of the countries of the world use machine-readable passports. We belong to the 5% that still have scripted passports – but only up to June or July of this year. Henceforth, the DFA in partnership with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will be offering these new e-passports to the public.

This corner congratulates Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo for his moral decision to rescind the disadvantageous contract and pave the way for the E-Passport Program to become a reality. It also salutes the consular office of the DFA for taking bold steps to protect the Philippine passport. Kudos also to Senator Mar Roxas for elevating this issue to the public’s consciousness.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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