Philippines: APO’s Woes

By | March 19, 2017

APO Production Unit Inc., a government controlled corporation and printing office under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), never had it this good.

During former president Benigno Aquino III’s term, APO became one of three recognized government printers that may handle the printing of accountable forms and sensitive high quality/volume printing needs of government agencies and offices. The two others are the National Printing Office and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas security printing plant. It also became a GOCC.

An executive order issued in 2010 placed APO under the PCOO. At that time, APO was seriously short of operating funds, had limited revenue sources, and was suffering from high operating costs. It had very few printing contracts, in particular only the National Budget and the National Census Reports.

Things changed when less than two years ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) entered into a partnership contract with APO for the printing of the highly-secured Philippine electronic passports or e-passports. From 2010, it was the BSP, through French firm Oberthur Technologies, printing the e-passports but in 2015, BSP turned over to the DFA the entire passport enrolment process.

Then foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and former PCOO secretary Herminio Coloma signed a memorandum of agreement on Oct. 5, 2015 that granted APO the authority to print the e-passport through a new integrated system. 

Printing of the e-passports is big business and very lucrative. It is estimated that the cost of producing one booklet is around P200 while the microchip needed for the security features is worth another P100. Around P100 is also needed for the ink and the thread used for binding the booklet, for a total  P500 cost per e-passport.

Since the new biometric Philippine passport costs P950, this means the manufacturer earns roughly P550 for each e-passport.

And since the DFA receives around 17,000 passport applications per day, in one year alone, that means the manufacturer nets something like P2.8 billion. Being a 10-year contract, APO stands to make an estimated P28 billion.  

As a state instrumentality, APO is able to import printing materials tax-free and was exempt from public bidding for government projects. Instead, it gets these through negotiated bids.

Not even the printing of excise stamp taxes for the BIR came close to the bonanza the e-passports printing project gave to APO.

But the project is not without criticism. According to one newspaper account, it was questionable due to the non-bidding of the contract, the alleged excessive price of its personalization process, APO’s questionable track record in security printing, and the direct involvement of a ranking Malacañang official in facilitating the awarding of the contract to APO. 

Based on media reports, then PCOO secretary Coloma himself wrote the DFA and personally pushed for APO to produce of the e-passports, claiming it will be the legacy of the Aquino administration.

Subsequently BSP’s contract for the printing of the e-passports, which was supposed to run until 2018, was cut short.

The awarding of the contract to APO was also questioned due to the fact it did not have an established track record in printing security documents. APO had to engage the services of a private printing company to help fulfill its contractual obligations with the DFA.

APO’s labor union, Asian Productivity Employees Association (APEA), has filed plunder and graft complaints against the former PCOO chief and APO officials for hiring 11 sales specialists to “siphon hundreds of millions of pesos from APO revenues for a period of five years.”

APEA called on the Ombudsman to take heed of their complaint and help President Duterte eliminate graft and corruption in government.

Opposition vs. Ubial growing

 The number of people and groups opposing the confirmation of Dr. Paulyn Ubial’s appointment as health secretary has been growing.

First was Rep. Harry Roque, who claimed Ubial had the propensity to lie to cover up her incompetence as exemplified by her handling of the Zika virus and dengue vaccine issues, and had poor work ethic and performance throughout her 28 years at the DOH.

Meanwhile, the Action for Good Governance claimed Ubial has been wasting government resources due to her numerous trips with family and friends, and she had disobeyed the President’s directive as far as contractualization was concerned.

Another oppositor, the ACT OFW partylist, through Rep. John Bertiz, has said Ubial has been inutile and has failed to fulfill her duties to investigate and file charges against Winston Q8 and its accredited clinics.

This WQ8 scheme involving OFWs to Kuwait and their mandatory payments to an office prior to being fanned out to their “accredited clinics”, was declared illegal by the Supreme Court and stopped by former Health Secretary Janet Garin but was reinstituted by Ubial.

Posturing for 2022?

Don’t be surprised if the name of PDP-Laban stalwart and House Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez crops up as among those interested to run for vice-president, even president, in the 2022 national elections.

Alvarez has almost always grabbed the headlines due to his controversial advocacies, including the enactment of the death penalty law and the shift to federalism. Those who did not vote for the revival of the death penalty or were absent during the voting found themselves removed from their committee chairmanships in the House of Representatives and of course, Alvarez had a lot to do with that. The death penalty bill was supported by 217 of the 292 House members.

He is also filing a bill seeking to amend the Family Code to allow civil union, but not marriage, among members of the LGBT community and among partners of the opposite sex.

The House Speaker is said to be a trusted friend and confidante of President Duterte and their friendship started when they were both junior congressmen. Alvarez is among those who were able to convince the doubting Duterte to run for the highest position in the land.

He belongs to the President’s inner circle and is Duterte’s loyal lieutenant in the Lower House, which is very important especially if the impeachment complaint filed by Magdalo party list Rep. Gary Alejano is given due course.

But of course, Alvarez’ rise to fame has been fraught with controversies. As DOTC secretary, he was charged with plunder for unlawfully awarding to Piatco the contract to construct the NAIA 3 terminal. The charges were dismissed later for lack of evidence.

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Source: Philstar Global