By Sammy F. Martin
MANILA, June 19 (PNA) — Akbayan Party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III on Friday asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to answer reports that it has signed a 10-year contract worth P8 billion with the APO Production Unit to produce the country’s e-passports.
“For the last several years, Philippine passports have been printed at the security plant complex of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas since it is the only government-owned printing facility that has the capability and the necessary security features required in producing such vital travel documents,” Gutierrez said.
“So why did the DFA suddenly agree to transfer the production of the country’s passports to the APO Production Unit, a private firm that has no established track record for printing security documents?” he asked.
He said that APO Production Unit is not even considered a top commercial printer adding that it immediately decided to outsource the printing of passports to United Graphic Expression (UGEC), another private commercial printer.
“If the DFA really intends to modernize and make more secure Philippine passports, it should have considered the world’s leading producer of e-passports and e-booklets,” he said.
DFA’s awarding of the e-passport printing contract to the APO Production Unit, as well as the latter’s outsourcing of the printing job to UGEC were all done without the benefit of a public bidding, the Akbayan representative pointed out.
These recent developments, he said, are particularly disturbing since, under the DFA’s own passport modernization project, today’s maroon-colored passports are supposed to be machine-readable and biometric. These new e-passports are supposed to have various security features, including a hidden encoded image; an ultra-thin, holographic laminate; and a tamper-proof electronic microchip.
“This is more than just a question of convenience, but one of national security. The security features are there precisely to prevent our passports from being easily counterfeited and used by criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations. We cannot put this vital task into the hands of a company with a less than solid record,” he pointed out.
The solon also emphasized that DFA must likewise explain the cost-implications of this move to the public.
“Is the DFA intending to pass on the Php8 billion payment to APO Production Unit to the millions of OFWs and other Filipino travelers who are now going to be forced to shoulder higher fees as a result of this new contract?” he asked.
The DFA, he noted, should make clear its intentions and fully explain the reasons behind its decision to transfer the printing of the country’s passports from the BSP to the APO Production Unit.
“Otherwise, it may put in grave peril the integrity and reliability of Philippine passports even as it puts the burden of repaying an Php8-billion contract on the shoulders of hapless Filipino passport holders,” Gutierrez concluded. (PNA)