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Friday, July 23, 2010

OFWs urge gov't to investigate passport fee overprice

 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), 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 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.

“Wala na bang katapusan ang pangongotong ng gobiyerno mula sa OFWs?” declared Gina Esguerra, Secretary general of Migrante International. “President Aquino must prioritize this issue as this not only involves OFWs but all other Filipinos applying for a passport.”

Esguerra also 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.

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.

 “DFA Sec. Romulo has 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.

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

 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.




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