By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora, PNA
anuary 2018 has been a busy month for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as it launched several initiatives to ease serious problems facing its passport appointment system.
Some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and those from areas far from consular offices were among those who initially benefitted from the actions taken by the DFA.
Last January 15, the deployment of four Passport on Wheels (POW) to decongest the consular offices in Metro Manila, was launched in Las Pinas.
Each POW vehicle was able to process 500 applicants daily, serving a total of 2,000 additional daily slots in the DFA’s capacity to process 9,000 passports per day.
Since then, the vehicles have visited Manila, Angeles City, Capas, Tarlac and San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.
According to January 29 figures of the DFA, number of passports issued in Las Piñas is 927; Manila at 1,285; Angeles City at 685; San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan at 820; and Capas, Tarlac at 1,035 passports.
Michael Munoz from Concepcion, Tarlac is one thankful applicant the POW was able to visit his area.
“From December (2017), I attempted to apply for an appointment at least two times, I even decided to schedule in La Union but the earliest date was June 2018,” he said in an interview. “When I found out about this (POW) in Tarlac, I registered.”
Munoz, who registered at the Capas Municipal Hall just days before the POW visit was able to process his passport within 30 minutes.
The same goes for Gay Cunanan, a teacher in Cristo Rey, Tarlac and Levita Alzadon from Sta Lucia, Tarlac.
“The announcement that there will be (a POW) was only within a week, and 30 minutes lang na-process na kami (in 30 minutes, our papers are already being processed),” Cunanan said.
Alzadon, who knew that using the online appointment system would take long, is thankful the processing facilities were the ones that visited them personally. “Maganda naman ang service. Kung mag-online ako, matagal iyon, sa Marquee (Mall) pa siguro ako (Service is good. If I apply online, it would probably take longer.)”
In January 19, four days after the POW was launched, the DFA unveiled its Passport Portal for first-time OFWs in coordination with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and their accredited Licensed Recruitment Agencies (LRA).
In its introduction, one OFW said he was able to secure an appointment two days from his online application.
When the Philippine News Agency went back to the DFA-Office of Consular Affairs Office in Aseana on January 26, some OFWs said the booking was indeed fast and free of charge.
“Mabilis naman, wala rin kaming binayaran (It was fast. We didn’t pay anything),” said Maricel Taberos, a first-time OFW planning to serve as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia.
Emerson Lontok, a 26-year old nurse planning to work in Pakistan for his part said he did not expect he will be able to secure his passport renewal on time.
Initially, he applied through the online appointment system for general public with a mindset that the process would be the same as in 2013.
During those times, he said he was able to reserve a slot with only two weeks waiting time.
“Near expiration na ang passport ko, pero akala ko katulad lang ng dati, matagal pero mga two weeks lang mayroon na. April 2018, wala nang available slots, kahit sa province wala na talaga (My passport is nearing expiration and I thought it would take longer for me to get a renewal but was able to reserve a slot with only two weeks waiting time. For April 2018, no more slots are available),” he said in an interview.
“I called my agency then they informed me na mayroon na akong slot (that a slot was available),” he said.
Two days after that call, Lontok was able to renew his passport. “Maganda naman kasi sobrang bilis, kung normal process months (Service was fast especially since it was normal process months).”
The agency earlier said reforms are underway. Within the month, they noted more than 50,000 bogus appointments had already been cancelled to open more passport appointment slots to the public.
Last January 23, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano announced they opened 100,000 slots to the public.
Given that this problem demands a long-term solution, DFA said they are eyeing the establishment of additional consular offices outside Metro Manila to anticipate the increase in the demand for passports. (PNA)