The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has acknowledged complaints on the delays in the issuance of passports and the difficulty of getting appointments for application and renewal.
During an inquiry of the House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs on Thursday, July 29, DFA officials said the COVID-19 pandemic and the recurring imposition of strict quarantine protocols continue to affect their operations.
DFA Consular Affairs acting executive director Jabbar Adiong said that from a high of 13,074 slots they were able offer daily before the coronavirus outbreak, the agency can now only accommodate an average of 6,167 appointments.
He added that they also had to observe alternative working arrangements and capacity restrictions to ensure compliance with health standards and distancing protocols.
“These measures contributed in the delay or backlog of issuance of passports to our OFWs,” Adiong explained.
In 2019, the DFA issued a total 4,095,302 passports, he said. Last year, the agency gave out only 1,732,459.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier said the DFA has a backlog of three million passports.
Passport director Marie Cris Chieng also attributed the delay to the reimposition of the stricter enhanced community quaranine (ECQ) and modified ECQ in the previous months, forcing them to stop operations, which then resulted in the piling up of reserved appointments.
“Those who held appointments in June, we are still serving them up to now,” Chieng said, noting they are fully-booked until September.
There has also been an increase in renewals.
Aside from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other individuals who badly need their passports for employment or emergency travel, she said people who have expiring passports have also been rushing to secure slots online, thinking of the difficulty of getting appointments.
The DFA has not yet opened slots for October, “because we’re also a bit cautious, given what we have experienced,” she said. They are likewise prioritizing those with urgent travel needs.
ChienG said they hope to address their backlogs and open more slots for appointments with the DFA’s recent establishment of temporary off-site processing sites (TOPS).
The TOPS will operate until September, although she said the DFA is inclined to extend it to December.