Cayetano set to probe passport scam
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said that he would coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation in addressing the persistent rumors of fixers or scammers offering fake or non-existent passport appointment slots.
A spate of complaints, which flooded the agency’s official Facebook page, prompted Cayetano to once and for all explain and speak up before the media and deny that there are syndicate group involving the agency’s employees and travel agencies.
“I personally will appeal again to the NBI to help us if it is true that there are plenty [of fixers, scammers, and syndicates],” Cayetano said in a press briefing at the sidelines of the official launching of a 10-year validity passport.
“We’ll take a second look,” he added.
Cayetano, however, said that the existence of these fixers and scammers are not that massive due to the reforms he imposed when he first assumed the office.
“Maaring magkatotoo kung may contact sila sa loob na wala namang appointment tapos nakakasingit. But it’s not massive,” he said.
He explained that syndicates do not exist because they have already taken out the passport schedule allotment for DFA employees and government officials. The department has also removed the 1,200 slots in DFA-Aseana previously reserved for travel agencies.
“There are no allotment since five months ago,” he said.
He added that those syndicate may be taking advantage of the express lane for pregnant, senior citizens, children, people with disability, OFWs, and solo parents.
“We have also canceled 50,000 bogus appointments. The cancellation of bogus appointments has enabled the DFA to open more passport appointment slots to the public,” he said.
Cayetano also admitted the long waiting time, which took six months, before an applicant can secure appointment for his or her passport.
The Foreign Chief assured that the DFA is now addressing the issue by upgrading the DFA’s capacity to lower down the six months period to only three weeks.
Cayetano said on Friday that the DFA will open new slots from March to April, but when checked, only one date was available in May.
When asked for an explanation, DFA-Office of the Public Diplomacy executive director Charimaine Aviquivil said that appointment slots are made available from time to time.
“We recommend that you regularly visit our appointment site to check the available slots,” she said.
She admitted that the heavy volume of applications may cause the appointment system to experience technical issues.
“Please bear with us while we attend to these issues,” she pleaded.
A passport applicant who refused to be named said that he was trying to book an appointment online since July.
He even hired an agency to do it for him but was told that the next available schedule will be in December.
This prompted him to do it manually.
“The online appointment is frustrating,” he said.
After trying for months, he was able to book an appointment on Saturday, 8 a.m.
“I started checking at 5:30 a.m.,” he said.
“Lumalabas service unavailable o minsan site can’t be reached. Minsan napuputol sa gitna. Minsan nasa dulo na,” he added.
But Cayetano said that there are now ongoing plans to impose e-payment when booking an appointment to avoid fixers or other individuals to book their schedule without showing up.
Meanwhile, the DFA is set to establish nine more consular offices nationwide to speed up the passport application process.
Cayetano said the department is projecting a 9,000 to 15,500 passport applicants to be accommodated once these are already established.
The DFA will establish consular offices at: San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte; Santiago, Isabela; Malolos or Meycauayan, Bulacan; Calamba or San Pablo, Laguna; Dasmariñas City, Cavite; Antipolo, Rizal; Oroquieta City or Ozamis City; Misamis Occidental; and Tagum, Davao del Norte.
Aside from the new consular offices, 4 trucks for mobile passport processing or passport on wheels will be made available to process 2,500 more passports each day.