MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers on Monday, October 21, discussed a proposal to allow local government units (LGUs) to gather passport applications, as travel agencies do, to make passports more accessible to Filipinos.
Albay 2nd District Representative Al Francis Bichara said that under this proposal, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) can deputize LGUs to put up centers to collect passport applications.
In a meeting of the foreign affairs committee which he chairs, Bichara said the proposed passport application centers will fall under the DFA’s supervision. The centers will send the applications to the DFA in Manila for processing.
In an interview with Rappler, Bichara said this proposal will especially benefit Filipinos in far-flung areas. He said under the current setup, residents from islands – such as Masbate and Catanduanes, for example – “will have to go all the way” to regional consular offices to apply for passports.
He added travel agencies, after all, do the same thing. “Kung ginagawa ‘yan ng mga travel agencies, na sila ang nagko-collect ng mga passport application, bakit hindi puwedeng gawin ng LGU?” (If travel agencies can do that – they collect passport applications – why can’t LGUs do the same thing?)
Bichara said congressmen have begun to discuss whether to include this proposal in House Bill No. 12, which seeks to amend the Passport Act of 1996. (Watch Bichara’s explanation in the video below.)
One of the proposed amendments is to allow Filipinos to apply for passports with either a 5-year or 10-year validity. “If you want to apply for a 10-year passport, you pay double,” Bichara said.
He explained these amendments boil down to a healthier economy.
“All those who wish to work outside the country can have access to all these passports. After all, this is a constitutional right. Every citizen has the right to acquire a passport,” Bichara said.
‘Strict controls’ needed
During the foreign affairs commitee meeting on Monday, Cebu 3rd District Rep Gwendolyn Garcia said she is “fully supportive” of the proposed amendment.
Garcia, a former Cebu governor, explained that LGUs “have the proper networks” to help constituents in securing passports.
John Paul Cabalza, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), said the motive of the proposed amendment “is acceptable.”
“Kasi may mga areas talaga tayo na hindi ma-reach, so sa tingin ko kakailangan natin ng more arm’s length in terms of getting through, especially ‘yung mga provincial places,” Cabalza told Rappler after the committee meeting. (Because there are really areas that we can’t reach, so I think we really need greater arm’s length in terms of getting through especially in provincial places.)
Former PTAA president Marciano Ragaza, however, said if the proposal pushes through, LGUs should implement “strict controls” in collecting passport applications. This will prevent falsified documents that prompt other countries to reject Philippine passport-holders.
“We have to avoid that. That’s the number one concern of the travel agents, that our clients are not turned away because their passports are spurious or suspected to be spurious,” Ragaza said.
Bichara said the proposed amendment of the Passport Act passed on 3rd reading in the previous Congress. The Senate, however, failed to act on it. – Rappler.com