Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday denied that a syndicate involving Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) personnel and travel agencies is behind the alleged selling of slots for passport appointments.
Cayetano, during the launching of the new passport with 10-year validity at the DFA-Office of Consular Affairs in Parañaque City, said travel agencies are no longer allowed to offer appointment slots for passport applications.
"'Di namin sinasabing imposibleng may nanloloko, na sinasabing may slot sila. Anybody can say anything. Ang sinasabi ko, wala silang slot, kaya wala silang ibebenta sa inyo," he said.
Cayetano added that such illegal activity — the selling of appointment slots — is only possible during the old system where travel agencies were allotted 1,200 slots a day. That system was abolished last year.
He dared those accusing the DFA of being in cahoots with travel agencies to "give us the evidence or give us the lead."
The DFA has come under heavy fire from Filipinos — including those working abroad — who are renewing their passports because of difficulties in getting appointment through the agency's online facilities.
The DFA's Facebook page has been flooded with complaints from people unable to get appointments earlier than March.
Cannot scrap appointment system
Cayetano, during the event, said they are currently "fixing the system" to make passport application easier but remarked that they have already shortened the process to a few weeks as they increased their capacity by 25 percent.
"At 1,900 a day, three to four months ang waiting. Ngayon po, six weeks to three months ang waiting," he said.
Cayetano said he would scrap the appointment system if possible, but conceded that it was the best possible way to process passport applications for now.
"I'm the first one na gustong tanggalin ito dahil mahirap ayusin. But when you have a 600,000 increase in demand in one year... and we only have a capacity now of 9,000 a day, can you imagine if 10 percent of 600,000 ang pumila? That's 60,000 people," he said.
"Meaning 50,000 pauuwiin mo, 10,000 lang mase-serve mo. Kung may numbers sila, pa'no the next day? Pipila na naman," he added.
There was a 19.38 percent or 602,806 increase in passports produced from 2016 (3,110,114) to 2017 (3,712,920) despite a lack of significant increase in consular staff or offices.
"More demand, more processing time, pero same number of people, same number of offices," Cayetano said.
More appointment slots, consular offices
Cayetano said they are eyeing to increase passport appointment slots from 1,900 to 3,300 in the future.
The secretary attributed the increased capacity to their cancellation of more than 50,000 bogus appointments and removal of the 1,200 daily allotment for travel agencies.
In addition to this, more passport appointment slots will be made available for the nine new regional consular offices and four overseas consular offices that will be opened in 2018.
The new RCOs will be at San Nicholas, Ilocos Norte; Santiago, Isabela; Malolos or Meycauayan, Bulacan; Calamba or San Pablo City, Laguna; Dasmarinas City, Cavite, Antipolo, Rizal; Oroqueta City or Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental; Tagum, Davao del Norte.
On the other hand, new overseas consular offices will be set up in Houston, Texas, USA; Copenhagen, Denmark; Frankfurt, Germany; and Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
Four new passporting on wheels (POW) vehicles with the capacity to process over 500 applicants daily each without need for appointments will also be rolled out. They will initially be deployed around Metro Manila and other key areas to bring DFA's passporting services to those without access to a consular office.
An e-payment system was supposed to be introduced on January 3 but was delayed after talks between the DFA and a bank fell through when it requested that all payments must go through their banks alone.
Cayetano said the e-payment system was "insurance" to make sure that individuals who book passport appointments will actually show up on their reserved date and to prevent fixers from using the online appointment system.
Should the scheme work, Cayetano estimates that the DFA can solve the problem of applicants who do not show up at their appointments. —KBK, GMA News