ILOILO CITY, Philippines – The Iloilo city council on Tuesday, March 15, called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to look into their passport application and renewal system, amid red tape allegations in its Iloilo consular office.
Councilor Rudolf Ganzon moved for a resolution calling on DFA Iloilo to “address and check immediately” the issue of online appointment services provided by private individuals and entities.
“In line with the recent issue regarding the alleged non-availability of appointment slots before the [DFA], online sale of slots for an extremely high fee has gone viral and is resorted to by our fellow llonggos,” the resolution said.
“There are certain people who take advantage of the situation and offer online appointment slots for additional pay. This act can be a floodgate of abuse and may tarnish the transparency and accountability of the Department of Foreign Affairs,” it also said.
The resolution was unanimously approved by the council with no objections.
In his privilege speech, Ganzon raised concerns about the alleged fixing system in DFA Iloilo and its confusing appointment system.
“Recently, I have been getting information that it seems quite impossible to get an online appointment from DFA Iloilo. When I started looking into it, the number of complaints just grew, so I also tried booking an appointment, and true enough, there was no vacancy,” he said.
He also said the system may be a contributing factor to the proliferation of individuals offering passport schedules for a fee on Facebook.
Ganzon himself tried booking an appointment but was unable to. He also questioned why there were still posts on Facebook of fixers offering assistance with appointment slots, when the DFA earlier said on April 24 that this was not allowed.
“We would like to make sure that this is noticed as this can become an avenue for fixers to proliferate which in effect also puts the government institution in a bad light. This is not to conclude that this is an existing organized operation by fixers but people who have a need for their passport to be renewed will resort to this option if the problem is not addressed,” he said.
During the period of interpellation, Councilor Ely Estante called on Ganzon to call for an investigation by the city council itself in aid of legislation.
Estante cited that as per his experience, he encountered services which offer passport appointments where potential applicants would have to pay P10,000.
“Some waited for months, and sacrificed late nights and early morning hours just to see if any slot was open,” Estante said. “I heard an interview from RMN [Iloilo] of the [DFA Region 6] OIC Shiela Marie Tu, whose statement said that they had no hand in the schedule since it was being handled by the national office,” he added, and said the DFA should explain their queueing system.
“[The ‘fixers’] must be investigated, because we can see that it is the root cause of the backlog, and people at the DFA wanted to maintain the problem so they could continue to ‘profit’,” he stated further.
But Ganzon said an investigation by the council would not be necessary, citing a recent resolution by Senator Leila De Lima which also calls for an investigation into the DFA by the upper chamber.
“This has already reached the Senate. Senator De Lima has passed a resolution already for Senate inquiry. This is not only happening in Iloilo. We will [likewise] wait for the Senate inquiry, and I’m sure [DFA Iloilo’s attention] will be called for this,” he said.
Ganzon’s father, Vice Mayor Jeffrey Ganzon, said that national investigations should be left to proper investigation authorities like the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
“May I suggest the proponent request the NBI to do the investigation? Justice delayed [is] justice denied,” said the older Ganzon.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas had written to DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin on February 14 and March 11, emphasizing the need to speed up passport applications and renewals of OFWs. – Rappler.com
Joseph B.A. Marzan is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.