MANILA, Philippines – Contrary to the claim of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, passport data of Filipinos remains intact and accessible to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
APO Production Unit Inc (APUI) chairman Michael Dalumpines told Rappler that the passport information is in their plant in Lima (Lipa-Malvar) Technology Center in Batangas, and is accessible to the DFA.
"Passport data are with us…DFA maintains a small office in our plant and the DFA officers have full access [to] data from old green passports, machine-readable passports, as well as the current e-passports," said Dalumpines in a message on Tuesday, January 15.
Locsin had sparked a heated national discussion when he claimed a former contractor "took all" passport data when government terminated their contract. This was his explanation for why those seeking to renew their passports have to present their birth certificates instead of just their old or current passports.
Locsin even blamed the "Yellows," or those associated with the Liberal Party, for the alleged loss of passport data.
The foreign secretary never named the contractor, but the French firm Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire (FCOF or Oberthur), contracted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to produce machine-readeable electronic passports, had withdrawn in 2015 when DFA tapped another contractor, APUI, for passport production.
Former foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr said Locsin had been referring to Oberthur as the contractor that supposedly "made off" with the passport data.
But Dalumpines said that when Oberthur withdrew from the passport production effort, their equipment for making passports was turned over to APUI, and no data was taken.
"From what I gathered, all data were all in those equipment turned over to us by Bangko Sentral. Hence, no data lost," he told Rappler.
The Oberthur equipment containing the data was transferred from BSP facilities and placed in APUI's Batangas plant. Dalumpines said APUI assigned information technology personnel to "secure passport data during the transition" from Oberthur to APUI.
So did Locsin get it wrong? Dalumpines said there may have been "just a bit of a misunderstanding."
Yasay, too, had said Locsin must have been "misinformed" about the alleged passport data loss. He also slammed Locsin for his "completely false and malicious" claim that Oberthur ran away with passport data.
For Yasay, the real issue is the supposed illegal subcontracting by APUI of private firm United Graphic Expression Corporation (UGEC) for the production of passports.
He even said the passport data loss controversy may have been used to "deflect" from the issue of APUI's allegedly anomalous arrangement with UGEC.
APUI, under the Presidential Communications Operations Office, prints highly-sensitive materials for the national government.
On the issue of APUI's arrangement with UGEC, Dalumpines said UGEC was subcontracted not to print passports, but to procure certain equipment and manage finances of their Batangas plant.
"UGEC is not involved in the printing of the passports...UGEC's role as our Joint Venture partner is to procure equipment and raw materials, finance, that are needed by our printing plant in Batangas. Essentially capacity-building only," he said. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.