Indonesia

Yasay refutes Locsin, says passport data not stolen

Paterno Esmaquel II
It 'is completely false and malicious' to say that former contractor Oberthur 'ran away with the data,' asserts former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr

PASSPORT ISSUES. Former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr appears at a congressional hearing at the House of Representatives on March 6, 2018, about delays in passport processing. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr refuted his successor, Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr, who said a former contractor “took all” passport data when government terminated their contract.

“I’ll say he was misinformed,” Yasay said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart on Monday, January 14.

When asked by host Karen Davila if the data was “stolen” by the contractor, Yasay responded, “I don’t believe so, Karen, and I’ll say this very categorically.”

The reported loss of passport data ignited a firestorm in a country still reeling from a data leak that involved 70 million voters’ records in 2016. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this is a “serious and grave matter,” while Vice President Leni Robredo and senators called for an investigation into the passport data mess. 

It was Locsin who bared in a tweet on January 8 that “because the previous contractor got pissed when terminated, it made off with data.” Locsin did not name this former government contractor, but Yasay said Locsin was referring to Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire, or Oberthur. 

 

Yasay hits ‘false, malicious’ claim

Oberthur, Yasay explained, was the private firm contracted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in 2006 to set up a “personalization system” to input data of passport holders.

He said that “this system was finally set up” by Oberthur in 2009, but the system was agreed to be “owned, maintained, and operated” by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

After completing the system, Yasay said Oberthur “continued to assist the DFA and the BSP” in operating and managing the system “for free.”

This was until, “for one mysterious reason in February of 2014, the DFA issued a purchase order contract” in favor of APO Production Unit, which later subcontracted to United Graphic Expression Corporation (UGEC) “in violation of the law.” Yasay said APO and UGEC assisted government in operating and managing the passport personalization system “for a fee.”

“And so when APO and UGEC came in, Oberthur withdrew. After all it was just assisting the government in the management and operation of the system for free. It had already completed its contract. But to say now that Oberthur ran away with the data is completely false and malicious,” said Yasay. 

The “real issue,” said Yasay, is the anomalous arrangement involving APO and UGEC.

When asked why the DFA would give Locsin the wrong information, Yasay said, “The only reason, or compelling reason I could see, is because they wanted to deflect the real issue of the passport mess, which is awarding the production of the passport, on an end-to-end basis, to APO without any bidding…which APO in turn subcontracted to a private firm known as UGEC in violation of the law.”

When asked if UGEC is a Filipino company, Yasay said, “Yes, I understand it is principally owned by the Zobels.”

Passport issue cost Yasay’s post?

Yasay blamed “powerful members of Congress,” who also belong to the Commission on Appointments (CA), for why the APO-UGEC contract still exists. The CA rejected Yasay’s appointment in March 2017 because lawmakers said he lied about his US citizenship and his US passport.

Davila asked Yasay on Monday, “If APO choosing UGEC was anomalous, why does that contract still exist?”

Yasay answered: “Because some powerful members of Congress intervened – powerful members who are also members of the Commission on Appointments – and said that there was nothing wrong with the contract. And I said there was something terribly wrong with the contract.”

Yasay said he in fact “canceled the contract” because APO and UGEC “refused to be bound or to sign” the amended memorandum of agreement he prepared. 

He said President Rodrigo Duterte, in a Cabinet meeting in February 2017, then instructed him to “tell the BSP to restore the printing of these electronic passports,” because the BSP “had no business refusing because they were bound by the contract that was in force up to 2018.”

“When I went back to BSP, the BSP said no. And after that, my confirmation came in and I was not confirmed,” Yasay said. 

Locsin: ‘The cover-up has begun’ 

In reaction to Yasay, Locsin denied on Monday that he is “misinformed.”

“I love Perfecto Yasay but I am not ‘misinformed’ although I lack more information on what Panelo rightly says demands deep investigation: the anomalous DFA-BSP-Oberthur/APO passport contracts. My predecessors seem to be panicking. I don’t know why. What do you think? Tweet,” Locsin wrote.

 

On Yasay’s statement that Oberthur could not have run away with passport data, Locsin said: “Then why is DFA frustrated it cannot access passport data so it won’t have to impose birth certificate to reconstitute data lost, stolen or inaccessible. Stories changing. Sign of guilt. DFA told me even APO does not give direct access to DFA of its data bank. Panic time.”

Albert del Rosario, who served as foreign secretary under the Aquino administration, earlier refused to comment on Locsin’s “early findings concerning the passport challenges.”

Del Rosario said the public “should be left to judge” the efficiency of passport issuances during his time as secretary of foreign affairs.

Locsin agreed with Del Rosario on this. He viewed the passport mess as a “sabotage” against his predecessor, Alan Peter Cayetano, who later resigned to run for congressman.

“Del Rosario is right. No passport problem. Then Alan came in and it became overnight a passport mess which ultimately drove him to leave the office. I told him it is sabotage but he always thinks well of people. Me, the opposite,” Locsin said.

 

Then, in a cryptic tweet on Monday, Locsin said, “The cover-up has begun.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.