Migrante International today called on the Aquino administration to stop the increase in e-passport application fees in light of allegations that the contract entered into by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), headed by Secretary Alberto Romulo, for the procurement of the new e-passport is illegal and tainted with corruption.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and applicants have been complaining of the rise in the cost of passport fees following issuance of the new e-passports by the DFA to comply with international standards.
The new e-passport now costs P950 to P1,200 from P550 to P750 in the Philippines, while e-passport costs have risen in Hong Kong, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, in the Middle East and some parts of Europe to as much as thrice as the previous rates, and approximately $6 (USD) more than the fee prescribed for e-passports in the Philippines.
Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, questioned the increase, saying that the DFA contract with French-owned Oberthure is marred with irregularities and grossly overpriced.
In an investigative report by the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, it was found out that the cost of procurement of laminates used for the e-passport is overpriced by P50 per laminate or at least P120 million per year if the DFA releases three million e-passports annually.
The contract still has pending corruption cases at the Office of the Ombudsman and Supreme Court. The P857 million e-passport deal has also been the subject of congressional inquiries and investigations since 2007.
“Akala ba namin walang korap sa gobyernong ito? Hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa rin sinasagot at napapanagot si Romulo tungkol sa isyung ito pangungurakot,” Martinez said.
Martinez said that the DFA had no right to increase e-passport fees if the contract is overpriced.
“We demand a renewed investigation and immediate resolution to the alleged corruption in the e-passport contract. Instead of passing on the burden to our OFWs, corrupt officials involved in the illegal and overpriced deal should be held accountable,” he said.
Martinez also said that it is lamentable that the DFA has “squandered millions of pesos in corruption but neglected to provide welfare services, protection and much-needed assistance to our OFWs, especially those in distress and facing death row.” “Hindi na nga natutulungan ang ating mga OFW, kinokotongan pa,” he said.
Migrante International is set to file corruption complaints against Romulo and other officials involved in the e-passport contract before the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice. “We also ask Pres. Aquino to seriously consider recalling Romulo’s re-appointment as DFA head.”
On the first State of the nation Address of President Aquino on July 26, Migrante International will be raising its protest against the e-passport fee hike, among many other concerns, in an internationally coordinated action with its chapters abroad. ###