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Some PHL e-passports defective –DFA

Some electronic passports (e-passports) issued by the Office of the Consular Affairs have been found to be defective and could easily tear, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.   “[DFA] is well aware of this issue,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said. However, he quickly added, “The DFA and BSP wish to assure [the public] that these are random/isolated cases." He did not specify how many e-passports were found to be defective so far.   Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and contractor Oberthur Philippines have been producing the e-passports for the DFA. The P900 million e-passport project was launched in August 2009 by DFA and BSP.   “To rectify the situation, the BSP production unit has been applying spine reinforcement tape which secures the stitching of the e-covers to the inside pages of the e-passport, thus making it difficult to detach unless there are attempts to deliberately remove the same," Hernandez noted.   Filipinos travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport have noted that e-passports were of poor quality, easily disintegrating when pulled out of a plastic jacket.   “The DFA office of Consular Affairs is advising the public that if one's passport gets detached, please proceed immediately to its office for replacement," the DFA spokesman said.   He did not say if passport replacement is free of charge, or if holders would have to pay the P900 (regular) or P1,200 (rush) processing fees again. Airport supervisor Augustus Caesar Morales discouraged travelers from using clear plastic as a protective cover for e-passports.   “Over time, the passport cover sticks to the plastic jacket, and when an immigration agent tries to remove it so that the document could be inserted in the machine to have the data read, the passport cover plastic sticks together, while the binding of pages become loose,” he said. Tampered identities   Aside from the defective e-passport, the non-government organization Visayan Forum urged the DFA to investigate how syndicates tamper with e-passports.   The issuance of e-passports does not guarantee that trafficking syndicates can no longer tamper with the identities of the minors and women usually being trafficked for sex exploitation and forced labor, the group said.   “It is really the pictures of these minors that appear in their passports, but the personal information are usually tampered. The DFA should investigate this,” VF executive director Cecilia Flores-Oebanda said. —Rouchelle Dinglasan/VS/YA, GMA News