By Roy Mabasa
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano wants printing contractor, APO Production Unit, to shoulder all the necessary expenses in improving the production and delivery of passports to the public, even if the additional requirements are not stipulated in their agreement.
This developed as another ranking official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) blamed the Aquino administration for the current mess besetting the agency’s passport online appointment system.
Cayetano likewise announced last week that the DFA will disperse at least four mobile passport processing trucks in the National Capital Region to help “de-clog” its consular offices of the big volume of passport applicants.
In addition, Cayetano said the DFA is also waiting for the importation of new printing machines to backstop APO’s production plant in Batangas.
Even in the absence of explicit provisions in the DFA-APO passport production agreement signed in 2014, all these improvements and additional requirements to improve passport production shall be “at the expense of APO,” according to the foreign affairs chief.
“It should be at their expense… They make their money per passport. I’m not a businessman, I can’t answer for them. But as head of DFA, ang tingin ko, (the way I see it) since you make your money per passport,” Cayetano said, adding that APO would still make money because of the sheer volume of passport demand and the year-on-year inflation.
“Yung truck wala sa kontrata nila iyon (the truck was not in the contract) but they agreed. They agreed because we interpret it as duty n’yo ‘yan (that’s your duty). Wala yung word na ‘they would not provide the truck.’ But to be able to cope with the volume, inherent sa kontrata yun,” he explained.
Likewise, the DFA secretary said they demanded APO to bring in more printing machines to cope with the increasing demand.
“They shouldn’t wait na umabot ng 24,000 or 25,000 a day bago nila sabihin na ‘Sir, three months bago (ma) import yung makina.’ Dapat ngayon pa lang nag i-import na dahil alam nila na pataas na. And I’m asking them to put printer hindi lang sa Batangas kundi dito din sa Manila para mabawasan din natin yung days (in the online system backlog),” Cayetano told the Manila Bulletin.
Appointment system tips
Meanwhile, one day after Cayetano announced that they have taken several steps to improve the DFA’s online scheduling system, the department issued a public advisory saying that the appointment system may experience “technical issues” due to the heavy volume of applications.
“Appointment slots become or are made available from time to time. We recommend that you regularly visit our appointment site to check the available slot,” the DFA’s Office of Public Diplomacy said in a statement issued over the weekend.
During a pull-aside interview with Cayetano, DFA Undersecretary Jose Montales admitted that they inherited the current passport problem from the previous administration.
However, Cayetano was cautious in echoing Montales’ statement, citing President Duterte’s earlier directive to them not to cast blame on the past administration.