DFA consular office in good hands

"Ferrer has a hands-on, no-respite, seven-days-a-week job."



I watched and listened to DFA Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Neil Frank Ferrer being interviewed live on television. This is a man who knows his job as he fielded questions posed by TV veteran anchor Rey Langit. Without hesitation and with much clarity, Ferrer showed his knowledge of the job considered by many in the Department of Foreign Affairs as the most difficult and demanding.

As the official in charge of the Department’s consular office which handles thousands of passport applicants daily, his job is a hands-on, no-respite, seven-days-a-week requirement. I can’t give the exact figures of Philippine passports being processed by the consular office on Macapagal Avenue but seeing the people packed inside the building with many more lined up outside, I can tell this is probably the busiest government office in the country.

After all, Filipinos are not known for paying their taxes on time at the Bureau of Internal Revenue except at crunch time when the BIR warns them of the deadline and the penalty for not doing so. On the other hand, Pinoys have a penchant for traveling while those who can’t afford to still need passports to seek jobs overseas. Hence, there is a daily beeline at the DFA consular office for passport application, renewal and replacement of lost ones.

The only time Asec Ferrer would probably get time off is when he heads a consular outreach to Filipino Overseas Workers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand of which there are thousands. And this is not really a break but still work as Ferrer still had to supervise his staff to ensure that every Pinoy who cannot go home to renew or replace his passport is attended to.

On the issue of requiring the presentation of the hard-to-get birth certificate, Ferrer clarified that it is not needed for those only renewing their passports. He reiterated his boss Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.’s statement that obviously the person applying for renewal is still the same person in the old passport. First-time applicants and those who claim to have lost the vital document , however, must present their birth certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority to preclude fraud. This is a ploy of some OFWs particularly those working in Japan and the Middle East where the salary is high. In order to return to their high-paying jobs, OFWs attempt to secure a new passport under a different name so they can return to these jobs that stipulate a certain period, often only of one or two years in their contract.

To cope with the never-ending work of issuing passports, Ferrer, like his predecessor, also named Frank (Cimafranca), continues the consular policy of application appointment on line and through a number coding scheme the applicant need not queue for a long time and just wait for his number to be called. The consular office has a special skeleton crew that processes applications even on Saturdays.

The consular office reminds applicants to always check the expiration date of their passports and not renew them only near the date they are supposed to travel. Most receiving countries require a six-month passport validity when these documents are presented at the port of entry.

Ferrer replaced Cimafranca who has been posted as Philippine ambassador to Greece. Ferrer’s foreign assignments before his Home assignment was Consul General in Vancouver and in Geneva, Switzerland. A lawyer, Ferrer is versed in international maritime affairs and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is a subject where the DFA can also harness Ferrer’s expertise considering Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.

Resigned or fired?

Philippine Charity Sweepstakes managing director Alexander Balutan claimed he resigned and was not fired by President Rodrigo Duterte. Whether he quit or was sacked does not matter anymore.

Clearly, the PCSO official was ousted from his job through the instigation of office rival Sandra Cam who initially blew the lid on Balutan’s P6-million office Christmas party last December.

As they say, never pick a fight with a feisty woman like Sandra Cam who has connections with certain congressmen and senators. The lesson learned by Alexander is “alsa balutan.”

A senator said Balutan should have been given his walking papers earlier for the expensive PCSO shindig. The Palace should not have waited for PCSO Lotto revenues to decline under his watch. 

It is noteworthy that there are dissonant voices within the Duterte administration.

First, there was the statement of Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde disputing President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration on the existence of the communist Sparrow units. The President said he would revive the Davao Death Squad to counter the Sparrows’ assassination teams.

Albayalde, on the other hand, said the Sparrows no longer exist.

The Sparrows gained notoriety during the Marcos martial law regime. Operating in two or three in each team, the Sparrows targeted government officials.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Carlito Galvez also differed with Duterte. He said the AFP will use intelligence agents and not hit men to counter the Sparrows.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin in his signature acerbic style, on the other hand, tagged as “bullshit” the arrest of former Bayan Party-List Rep. Satur Ocampo. Ocampo, a leftist militant, said he is no longer involved with the communist movement of Jose Ma. Sison. He was arrested and detained for three days by the police in Davao del Norte while on a mission to help schoolchildren. The police claimed Ocampo was recruiting children to join the communist movement in the Philippines, a charge which Ocampo denied.

Locsin, vouched for Ocampo’s character. He said he got to know Ocampo well when they were then both congressmen, with Locsin representing his Makati district.

An interesting observation by Rep. Edcel Lagman: “The repeated extension of martial law in Mindanao is an admission that the police and military failed to attain its objectives.” He added that martial law is against the provisions of the Constitution and that it need not be declared and simply left to the military and police to enforce law and order. In essence, Lagman said that lawless violence is not ground for imposing martial law. Often, it is an excuse to impose martial law on the whole country. Lagman said martial law in Mindanao is no longer justified since the Islamic terrorists that laid siege to Marawi are now only remnants.

Meanwhile, President Duterte drew flak anew for saying he uses marijuana to keep awake and cope with the heavy burden of work. As usual, he said later he was only joking. Still, some people think the President was not joking, and that he indeed admitted to using marijuana.

In defending his boss, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said one bad joke does not make him a bad leader. But a series of bad jokes makes the President a bad comedian. Joking aside, a critic said the biggest joke Digong pulled on the Filipino people is getting himself elected president.

Senators Grace Poe and Panfilo Lacson said the subject of marijuana use is something the President should not joke about. The Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on the use of marijuana for medical purposes and will call doctors and other experts as resource persons.

Articles appearing in some medical journals claim marijuana use can addle a person’s brain and his way of thinking. Draw your own conclusion if indeed marijuana use has this downside.

In America, the use of marijuana is legal in some states but other states remain firm against its use even for medical purposes. US medical experts express the concern that the proliferation of marijuana use could lead to more serious drug addiction.

In the Philippine where the government is waging a relentless and brutal war against illegal drugs, legalizing marijuana use can only result in a more widespread drug problem—and more extrajudicial killings of suspects.

It’s good to hear President Duterte saying he would not grant pardon to the three policemen convicted for killing teenager Kian de los Santos who was suspected of drug trafficking. The President has earlier stated he would defend policemen in the performance of their duty, but that he would not do this for those who simply take the lives of others.​

Topics: Neil Frank Ferrer , Rey Langit , Department of Foreign Affairs , Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office , Alexander Balutan

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