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05 May 2008

Passport Woes: Another Source of Corruption in the Philippines

The Philippine government insisted that passports should now be machine-readable and promised that Filipinos will be having a fast and easy use of it.

And now this happens.

Passport system causing visa applicants, travel agents headaches

The new but allegedly deficient "machine readable" passports (MRPs) being issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are reportedly causing more difficulties for the thousands of Filipinos seeking visa to the United States.

Travel industry sources told The STAR that the absence of certain security and anti-fraudulent passport features in the MRPs has caused the US embassy to add a documentary requirement in the already exacting visa application process that has to be undergone by Filipinos wanting to travel to the US.

The source said the US embassy is now looking for the filled up application form submitted by Filipino citizens when they secured their passports.

"They look for a certified true copy of your passport application form," the source said.

The additional requirement means that the one seeking US visa will have to go back to the DFA just to get the certified true copy of the passport.

A P100 charge is reportedly being collected to get the certified copy, the source said.

US visa applicants who have no money to pay for travel agents do not have a choice but to get the form themselves, according to the source.

The source said that the US embassy had added the requirement to have an access to a visa applicant's thumbprints and specimen signatures that are all present in the Philippine passport application form.

These information, the source said, are absent in the new MRPs.

It will be recalled that the machine readable passports being issued by the DFA since last year have been alleged to carry poor security features that make them vulnerable to "complete reproduction" by unscrupulous groups engaging in human trafficking and therefore non-compliant with security standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Aside from the poor security of the MRPs, there is also reportedly a lack of computer interconnectivity between the DFA and the Bureau of Immigration at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that could make possible a real-time authentication of the machine-readable passports.

- Rainier Allan Ronda/Philstar

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