By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The largest OFW group urged President Benigno S. Aquino III to stop the increase of the e-passport fees in the light of allegations of corruption in the procurement contract by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“We thought that there would no longer be any corruption,” Migrante Internatonal said in a statement.
The e-passport now cost P1,200 (or $25.78 based on the current exchange rate of $US 1=P46.54)from P950 ($20.41) and P750 ($16.12) from P550 ($11.82), for ten-working day orders and 20-working day orders, respectively. It would also cost Filipinos in Hongkong, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, in the Middle East and some parts of Europe thrice the price rates compared to Manila.
These e-passports would contain a chipset for added security, as compliance with the 2010 deadline set by the International Civil Aviation Organization standards for travel.
But Migrante is not only concerned with the increase in the passport fees but also with the allegations that the procurement contract with a private company to produce the e-passports is illegal and tainted with corruption.
A Built-Operation-and-Transfer (BOT) agreement with the BCA International Corporation was forged on February 8, 2001 after the bidding. The company was able to finish the first phase of the project on August 13, 2001. The DFA’s Machine Readable Advisory Board issued their acceptance of the project’s first phase on June 10, 2002.
However, on December 9, 2005, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo terminated the contract with BCA International. The notice was served the following day. “There was no public statement made on why they had to cancel the agreement with BCA,” Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez told Bulatlat.
The DFA then entered a Memorandum of Agreement with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the latter to facilitate the public bidding. But Migrante said that even before the Notice of Bidding was conducted in 2005, the DFA has already entered into a negotiated or no-bid MOA with French company Hologram Industries for the procurement of the passport laminates.
In a report by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), they also found out that the cost of procurement of laminates for the e-passport is overpriced by P50 ($1.07)per laminate or some P120 million ($2.58 million)if the DFA releases three million e-passports annually.
CEGP also found out that Hologram offered the same passport laminates in a public bidding in Mexico in August 1, 2007 at only 0.24 euros ($0.309) per laminate. “We have a public bidding to make sure that our government would pay less, but it’s not true in this case,” Martinez said.
“If the government would not stop the implementation, they would be tolerating the kotong system in the country,” Martinez said. “Many are affected by the increase, not only overseas Filipino workers.”
Migrante also questioned Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Domingo Lucenario who travelled with the Philippine representative of Oberthure to Europe in the course of the bidding. The said company was included in the three pre-qualified bidders by the BSP. The P857 million ($18.41 million) e-passport contract was awarded to Oberthure.
“It is like the NBN-ZTE scandal all over again,” Martinez said, adding that Oberthure was also the company behind the erroneous “Arrovo bills” and was also involved in a $34 million passport scandal in Kenya. “Why do we trust companies with these backgrounds?”
The CEGP has already filed a case before the Office of the Ombudsman on grounds of graft and corruption practices and overpricing in 2007. It also filed a motion to intervene before the Supreme Court in 2008. Then, in 2009, Kabataan Partylist and Anakpawis Partylist have already filed resolutions to investigate the anomalous contract. But no actions have been taken on these.
“Instead of passing on the burden to our OFWs, corrupt officials involved in the illegal and overpriced deal should be held accountable,” he said, “(DFA has) squandered millions of pesos in corruption but neglected to provide welfare services, protection and much-needed assistance to OFWs, especially those in distress and facing death row.”
Migrante said they would be raising this issue on Monday, during Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address, in an internationally coordinated action with their chapters abroad. (Bulatlat.com)