Cardinal Rosales blesses new DFA consular building

March 19, 2010 10:10 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, March19 —Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, today officiated at the blessing ceremony of the new Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) along Diosdado Macapagal Avenue in Paranaque City.

The ceremony began at the Passport Personalization Center, on the 4th floor, which is contemplated to be the printing area for e-passports that Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo said ”puts the Philippines on par with at least 60 other e-passport using countries.”

Romulo also graced the event, proud that one of his legacies at the DFA is the OCA building with the latest possible, affordable technology for passport issuances and other consular matters.

OCA Assistant Secretary Alex Villapando said about 4,000 applications for passports alone were being processed at the new center

Romulo told Rosales that thousands of migrant workers serve as the immediate beneficiaries of the technology that processes applications more efficiently and speedily.

He said that with the new set up, application time is expected to take only 30 minutes at most and that eventually, this should go down to 15. “There are birth pains but we hope to achieve that in two weeks,” he said.

Rosales prayed for blessings: ”O God in your wise providence/You are glad to bless all human labor, the work of our hands and of minds./Grant that all who plan and conduct business in this building receive your guidance and support and come to the right decision and carry them out fairly.”

As Cardinal Rosales was blessing the various sections of the building, accompanied by Romulo, DFA Undersecretary for Administration Frank Ebdalin, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Renato L. Villapando, and other guests, some 300 applicants for passports and other consular documents were seen transacting business at the various counters.

One of them, a male who asked not to be identified, said he was not impressed with the touted speed of service in authenticating health certificate that originated from the Department of Health (DOH).

It took two hours to get the service done, he complained, when all he thought was necessary was the release of the documents today.

“I spent an hour waiting for the claim stub at one counter then another hour to get to have it paid in another counter,” he said. Before that, he had waited a week for the document to move from DOH to OCA via courier service, he told this reporter.

He was comfortable though inside the air-conditioned rooms, he said.

Despite DFA’s announcement of the OCA’s transfer to the ASEANA Center effective March 8, a few unknowing applicants still go to the old OCA site on Roxas Boulevard, and get victimized by passport fraudsters.

These are precisely among the fraudsters that OCA has gotten rid of because the new location does not have space for them to scheme on people.

There have been stories of scuffles — some of them leading to injuries–between DFA security guards and the scheming operators who blatantly go about their business before the guards’ very eyes and preying on innocent applicants.

Just before the blessings ceremony, two women told this reporter they have just paid P200 each for online applications with one of the fraudsters. In their case, the fraudster not only gained P400 from an internet job that would have cost only P40, but also had access to the women’s application control number.

It is this and other new numbers that fraudsters use again and again to trick others, to the dismay of a victim whose application eventually gets rejected at the DFA counter.

When a person applies through online, he gets a printed response from the OCA that tells him the date and time when he must proceed to the DFA for the next step of the application process. The letter indicates the control number of the application. He is also instructed to bring that same letter along with his birth certificate and appear at the OCA on the date and time indicated in the response. At the OCA, his photograph and other biometric information are taken.

Up-on-their-toes syndicate workers at the old OCA site, who continue to ply their trade down the route from the Harrison/Libertad streets to the DFA, ambush ignorant applicants and instead of telling them that applications have since been handled at ASEANA Center, they present their own scheme for a few hundred pesos.

”It is irritating,” Villapando says, “but that will soon stop” even as his Passsport director, Felix Carino, admits there are still glitches and “we’re tweaking the system, it’s our adjustment period.”

On Thursday night, for example, Carino’s staff burned the midnight candle to facilitate the release of more documents on their due dates.

According to Carino, four falser applications have been brought to the attention of the barangays on Libertad Street since March 8.

The victims were indemnified while their applications were duly processed. “It’s not their fault after all.” But Carino insists that applicants should really be wary of people who do not wear legitimate DFA IDs.

Carino’s advice to lessen the woes of those wanting speedier, efficient results: Get information, surf the website, www.passports.com.ph, to get ample information and prepare better. Applicants should come about 15 minutes before the appointment, not two hours before or after.

He said many applicants complain of the long hours of waiting only to find out that they have arrived much too early at the site.

Carino said that there are exceptions to the appointment-only rule. The elderly, those with impairments, minors, OFWs, and justifiable emergency cases are given preferential treatment and could walk-in. (PNA)

RMA/GJB

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