DFA defends order banning travel agencies from applying and securing passports for their clients

August 13, 2012 10:51 am 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Aug. 12 -– The Department of Foreign Affairs has defended its decision to no longer accredit travel agencies to secure and apply for the passports of their clients, saying such a move is aimed at bringing equality among all passport applicants.

For a long time, those agencies have benefited from special privileges for its clients, including guaranteed same-day processing and access to passport express lanes.

Travel agency-assisted passport applicants shell out anywhere from P1,800 to P7,000 for these special privileges but the DFA only collects P950 from each applicant for ordinary processing and P1,200 each for expedited processing.

Unlike the speed and comfort afforded to travel agency clients, ordinary passport applicants, specially from far provinces, sometimes troop to DFA offices as early as midnight and wait in line for long stretches of time before they could be served.

The DFA took a bold step when it announced last May that travel agencies only have until the end of the year to transact with the DFA.

Such move is “not intended to drive travel agencies out of business,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Administration Rafael Seguis said on Sunday.

"We strongly felt there was a need to correct this situation," he said.

According to Seguis, the new DFA policy is not meant to discriminate travel agencies.

But allowing them to continue with such practice would be “inconsistent with the steps that we have been taking to improve the delivery of our consular services,” he said.

The DFA recently unveiled several steps aimed at simplifying passport application, such as opening passport offices in shopping malls nationwide.

Aside from bringing its passport offices and services closer to the people in the cool comfort of malls, the DFA said its mall-based consular offices would also follow mall operating hours to allow applicants to do their passport transactions way after office hours from Mondays to Sundays.

The novel changes would be a big relief for applicants, who could not leave their offices, workplaces or schools to be at the DFA consular offices during regular hours.

Soon, consular offices at the malls would also be open for business for three hours on Sundays to deal with applicants.

Aside from the public comfort, the new passport scheme would bring huge savings to the government.

Seguis said the DFA would be able to save as much as P1.14 billion in operating costs in the next 10 years as a result of the transfer of its consular offices to shopping malls.

“The directives that we issued to our consular offices nationwide are the answer to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s directive to bring government closer to the people and were issued simply to ensure that all passport applicants, regardless of their social status, get to experience the same special privileges at no cost to them,” he said.

While he appreciates the assistance that travel agencies extend to the applying public, Seguis said “it is the responsibility of the DFA, not our friends in the travel industry, to make the passport application process faster and more convenient to our people at no additional expense on their part.”

Seguis noted that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has rejected recommendations to charge applicants the same P500 fee collected from travel agencies to generate revenues to hire additional personnel and purchase passport processing equipment.

Del Rosario turned down this proposal even if it could generate as much as P1.2 billion in additional revenues for the DFA, he said.

“The Secretary has made it clear from the start that we should find creative ways to improve the way we deliver our consular services without having to place this burden on the applying public,” Seguis said. (PNA) scs/MDC/rsm

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