OFWs urge gov’t to investigate passport fee overprice

July 19, 2010

Migrante International today called on the Aquino administration to investigate the overpricing of e-passport applications in light of allegations that the contract entered into by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) 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 the 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.

Migrante International secretary-general Gina Esguerra questioned the e-passport fee increase, saying that the DFA contract with Oberthure, the French company which won the bidding for the procurement of e-passports, is marred with irregularities and grossly overpriced. The contract still has pending corruption cases at the Office of the Ombudsman and Supreme Court.

In 2007, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) filed a complaint before the Ombudsman based on an investigative report that exposed corruption and overpricing in the e-passport contract. The CEGP petition had since been the basis for congressional inquiries and investigations on the P857 million e-passport deal.

The issue was borne out of then and current DFA Sec. Alberto Romulo’s illegal termination of a 2001 BOT contract with BCA International Corporation, a private Filipino-owned company, only to eventually enter into a government contract with Oberthure. The Machine Readable Advisory Board of the DFA questioned the legality of the termination of the contract but the DFA, through the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, proceeded to open e-passport procurement to public biddings.

It was later on found out by the CEGP report 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.

“DFA Sec. Romulo is yet to answer all allegations hurled against him with regard to this issue. The DFA should stop imposing e-passport fee hikes until this issue is resolved. There should be no reason for an increase if the e-passport contract is truly overpriced. Instead of passing on the burden to our OFWs, corrupt officials involved in the illegal and overpriced deal should be held accountable,” said Esguerra.

She added that the e-passport contract follows the same pattern and course as high-profile corruption cases such as the NBN-ZTE deal and the Cyber-Education project under the Arroyo administration.

Esguerra also questioned the integrity of Oberthure, the same company that printed the infamous “Arrovo bills”. Oberthure was also reportedly involved in a million dollar passport controversy in Kenya.

She said that Migrante International is mulling filing administrative and criminal charges against Romulo and other officials involved in the overpriced e-passport deal.

Migrante chapters in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and some parts of Europe have also earlier announced that they would be holding internationally-coordinated actions on July 26, the date of Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), to protest the e-passport fee hike. ###