“Unlucky Filipinos who couldn’t get a time slot in the Philippine embassy’s outreach services have to go to Vancouver to simply renew their passports—a process that could cost up to $700 in airfare and accommodations, plus the $69 passport fee.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — In a gathering of Filipino migrants, they renewed their calls to the Aquino government to put up a consular office in Alberta, Canada to make the services that they need from the government more accessible.
“The gathering of Filipino community groups in Edmonton and Calgary is an important milestone in our campaign to have a consular office in the province,” said Marco Luciano, Migrante-Alberta spokesperson. “This further solidifies and validates our demand for accessible services from our own government,” he added.
Members of Filipino organizations such as the Filipino Support Services Society Edmonton, Philippine Cordillera Association and Kalinga Association, the Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association of Calgary, CIWA (Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association) – Filipino Community Dev’t Program, Possibilities in Motion, Philippine Independent Organizing Committee, Babae (Women), UP (University of the Philippines) Alumni Association of Calgary, CAFFA (Council and Assembly of Filipino Organizations and Associations), PCC (Philippine Cultural Center Foundation), Knights of Columbus, Filipino Catholic Society, Mabuhay Calgary and Quezonian gathered simultaneously in Edmonton and Calgary last Feb. 22 to reiterate the need for a consular office in Alberta.
The said campaign began in August 2013 with a petition signing. A total of 5,000 signatures were gathered immediately.
In a statement posted in their website, Luciano said their campaign “aims to address the ever-growing needs of the more than 100,000 Filipinos in Alberta.” Filipinos, Luciano said, is the fourth “most visible minority group in Alberta” and the Philippines is the top source of immigrants from 2007 to 2010.
The Philippine Consulate in Vancouver provides services to 200,000 to 250,000 Filipinos, of which 100,000 come from Alberta, according to Migrante-Alberta.
Booking an appointment to renew passports, however, is “proving to be more and more difficult for Filipinos,” the group said. Last Jan. 27, the Philippine Consular Office in Vancouver opened a website for online booking for passport renewals but, Migrante Alberta said, the website crashed after 10 minutes.
Another schedule for the online booking was set on Feb. 10, but the consulate changed the schedule without prior notice. Luciano said many were surprised that upon logging in, the schedule was already filled and that they should have booked a day earlier.
“Unlucky Filipinos who couldn’t get a time slot in the Philippine embassy’s outreach services have to go to Vancouver to simply renew their passports—a process that could cost up to $700 in airfare and accommodations, plus the $69 passport fee,” Luciano said.
Though there are two honorary consuls in Edmonton and Calgary, Migrante International said in a statement, they do not offer passport renewals, among other services, on regular days.
Luciano said they are also calling for reasonable fees for consular services for Filipinos in Canada. The renewal of a Philippine e-passport costs $69, which is 30 percent more compared to the fee in the Philippines. Other fees for passport replacement and to have criminal record checks are also being collected, he added.
“But because there is only one PH consular office in Vancouver, with the sheer number of Filipinos who are in need to assistance, basic consular and welfare services remain inaccessible and costly for Filipinos living outside of Vancouver,” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said.
Still subject for study?
Migrante International, in a previous statement, expressed its support for the demands of the Filipino community in Alberta, Canada.
In a Manila Times report, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said they are reviewing the petition for a consular office in Alberta, Canada. He said they have submitted it for consideration in the 2015 budget.
The overseas Filipino workers group also called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to review their decision to close down 10 Philippine posts as part of the government’s austerity measures.
“Not only is it highly impractical but outright insensitive to the plight of our overseas Filipino workers when government officials, no less than those in the executive, are figuring in allegations of misuse and abuse of public funds,” Martinez said.
Martinez said there is already a shortage in Philippine posts as it is and that it is unfortunate that the government would push for these austerity measures at the expense of services for Filipinos abroad.