Yasay belies Locsin claim on passport data

Published January 14, 2019, 5:22 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Roy Mabasa

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Monday described as “completely false and malicious” the allegations made by incumbent Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that French firm Oberthur ran away with the data of millions of passport applicants when its contract was abruptly terminated by the Philippine government in 2014.

Seafarers show their passports outside a satellite DFA office in Manila on Monday. Photo by janse Romero
Seafarers show their passports outside a satellite DFA office in Manila on Monday. Photo by janse Romero

In a television interview, Yasay explained that the Philippine government “owned, maintained, and operated” the entire data system as far back as 2009 after Oberthur had finished setting up the structure.

He said this arrangement was contained in a Terms of Agreement signed between the BSP and the French contractor.

In 2006, Yasay recalled that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), designated as the official printer of Philippine passports, awarded the contract to Oberthur through public bidding for the personalization system of the Machine Readable Electronic Passports (MREPs). This, he said, was in compliance with the standards imposed by the International Civil Aviation Office (ICAO) on the security standards of travel documents.

Under the memorandum of agreement, the BSP was tasked to produce the passport booklets that would then require personalization to input the data or information of the eventual holder of the travel document.
After it was turned over to the Philippine government, the data system or server was kept in the highly secured facilities of the BSP in Quezon City.

A “mirror” or a backup system was also kept by the DFA on the fourth floor of its offices in ASEANA.

Despite the completion of the system, Yasay said Oberthur continued to assist the DFA and the BSP in its operation and management for free “because it had some technological features that it was very familiar with.”

But in February of 2014, Yasay said the DFA issued a Purchase Order contract in favor of the APO Printing Unit, also an accredited government printer like the BSP, with the assistance of UGEC, a private company, took over the job of Oberthur “for a fee.”

“Naitsapwera ang Oberthur (Oberthur was sidelined),” Yasay said.

Moreover, Yasay said Locsin was misinformed when certain officials at the DFA told him that the French contractor ran away with the data.

DFA sources said an official at the Office of Consular Affairs was reportedly the one who fed Locsin with the wrong information following mounting complaints against the new policy requiring applicants renewing their passports to present their birth certificates.

“And the explanation that certain officials told him was that, ‘well because the previous contractor in the preparation of the personalized system ran away with that system with the data.’ So it was to my mind on that score that Sec. Locsin was misinformed,” Yasay said.

Meanwhile, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that if an investigation showed that theft was committed, the government could demand the return of passport data and sue the concerned entity in court.

Panelo raised the government’s possible course of action on the alleged breach in the passport system, insisting that such data belonged to the State.

“That data belongs to this government. Hindi naman pupuwede na kukunin ng iba iyan [Other parties cannot just get that]…The process there is demand return kung nasa kanila [if they have it],” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.

“Mag-file ka ng recovery ng mga dokumentong nakuha… baka idemanda pa natin sila ng theft [You can file for the recovery of the documents… we can also sue them for theft],” he added. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)