By Lee C. Chipongian
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said he will renegotiate the transfer of passport printing back to the BSP with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. soon.
Diokno, who six months ago was still the Duterte administration’s budget chief, said the BSP should not have given up its job of printing the citizen’s official travel document. Passport production is a critical operation that requires high-level security.
Before 2017, the BSP was the official printer of passports or the “e-passports”. It was during the time of BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr., who retired in July 2017, that the central bank agreed with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to transfer the printing contract to APO Production Unit Inc. which then subcontracted to a private firm, United Graphic Expression Corp. (UGEC).
“I understand there’s an irregularity ab initio (from the beginning),” according to Diokno. “Dapat talaga ang nagpi-print ng passport ay BSP. Bakit nila binigay yun sa isang private firm? Tapos 10 years pa. Dapat ireview. In fact ni-review na yan (BSP should be the one printing passports but why did they give it to a private firm for 10 years? We should review it),” he said.
Diokno sees no issue terminating the APO-UGEC contract. “Mas secure kung BSP talaga ang nagpiprint (It’s more secure if the BSP is printing passports),” he said.
Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said BSP should print passports again. “They are more efficient and they move faster (than any private firm). It’s fine and good (for Filipinos),” he said.
House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano, former DFA secretary, said they have been waiting for the BSP to initiate discussions, at least during his stint as foreign affairs chief.
“When I was there (DFA), I can tell you na yun ang hinihintay namin, na open ang BSP kasi nga madami improvements pa ang pwede talaga sa passport system natin – there’s efficiency, at saka mas safe, mas mura. As a congressman now, I support yung move ni Gov. Diokno subject to the legal studies (Passport system needs a lot of improvement, there’s efficiency, safety and costs issues),” said Cayetano.
The DFA has had problems with the passport system as early as 2018 and announced a data breach earlier this year, prompting lawmakers to investigate the subcontracting of passport printing to a private firm.
BSP Senior Assistant Governor Dahlia D. Luna said depending on the decision of the Office of the President, the government can cancel the private firm contract and once that is done, the BSP can take over or restore its previous job of printing passports.
“Definitely, whatever is our instruction, we can print passports again. Anyway we’ve been doing that before,” said Luna. The BSP has sold off all of its passport printing equipment in 2017 but could easily acquire what is needed once a memorandum of understanding is set between the BSP and DFA.
The BSP prints the country’s banknotes and mints coins and gold at its seven-hectare Security Plant Complex in Quezon City. Last year, it opened a new P1.7 billion minting facility.
The BSP is also selling SPC for P8 billion once its New Clark City Currency Production Facility in Capas, Tarlac, is completed possibly by 2021 or 2022.
Diokno said they will print passports at its SPC site, along with the National ID.