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Monday, February 26, 2024

Ombudsman set to probe passport issue ‘motu propio’

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The Office of the Ombudsman will investigate on its own the issuance of Philippine passports to foreign nationals.

With only P1 million confidential intelligence fund, Ombudsman Samuel Martires also said they will use “charm and smiles” and will resort to being “Marites” (colloquial for gossips) in their investigation, but will have info gathered verified.

Despite the absence of any complaint, Martires noted that his office can act motu proprio in conducting a probe on the passport issue.

Also targeted in the inquiry are foreigners holding tax identification numbers and other documents that should be exclusively issued to Filipino citizens.

“We will see this to know who were involved. We have to distinguish the jurisdiction of the DOJ (Department of Justice),” Martires said.

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This early, the Ombudsman already sees there was a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In the deliberation of the proposed Ombudsman budget for 2024, the issue concerning the arrest of 10 foreigners who were in possession of a Philippine passport surfaced.

The Philippine Statistics Authority was asked to explain the issuance to foreigners of birth certificates, which enabled them to secure Philippine passports.

Also, during an inspection of a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) hub in Pasay City, it was discovered that Chinese workers there have Philippine passports, TIN (Tax Identification Number) cards, and other documents meant only for Filipinos.

There were also applications for PhilHealth.

The Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission surmised fixers facilitated the issuance of passports to foreign nationals.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Ronald Dela Ross considered the granting of Philippine passports to foreigners as a national security concern.

Speaking to reporters after the Senate plenary hearings on the proposed P5.347-billion budget, Martires said they will exert efforts so that the P1 million CIF will be enough for their operations.

The Ombudsman’s budget for next year hurdled its approval in the Senate in less than five minutes. No questions and no senators interpellated the Ombudsman’s presentation of its proposed 2024 budget including the P1 million CIF.

“No questions asked, I am thankful to the Senate for its attention to our budget that was no longer discussed,” said Martires.

Initially, the Ombudsman asked for P51 million in confidential funds in the National Expenditures Program but opted to settle for P1 million.

In 2022, its requested CIF was P30 billion.

He also said the Ombudsman has been trying to speed up the resolution of cases.

“We will try to hire additional lawyers, fact-finding. Hopefully, next year, we have satellite offices with staff so they can bring their services to the people.

Reacting to the statement of Dela Rosa noted that the appreciation of evidence became different under the new administration, Martires contradicted the senator.

He noted that justice does not mean by change in administration, adding that the rule will also change.

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