Philippines – Partnered in Crime

By | April 18, 2017

Just one Malacañang official broke the odd silence of the motor-biking Duterte Harley administration on the deal for tens of millions of e-passports issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. An umbrella organization of labor unions, on the other hand, asked Congress to investigate the deal, wanting to cut down the high price of the passport that millions of OFWs had to bear.

And that was it—all noise! There was yet no concrete step to save us from the deal. If you ask me, I do not want mere legal opinions and congressional inquiries. I would rather that the deal be canceled right away and that cases be filed against those involved in it.

According to the Philippines Association of Free Labor Unions, or Paflu, the e-passport costs P950 —plus P250 for “overtime charge,” if the applicant uses the “express lane,” compared to the previous cost of only P550 per, or P700 per for express. The e-passport of course contains an electronic chip, its only enhancement, and Paflu noted that the price of digital products were already on the steep downtrend in the past years.

Now there are 17,000 applicants for passports every day.

Of course the Malacañang official was the chief presidential legal counsel himself, Secretary Salvador Panelo, who called the deal anomalous and illegal. Yes, it was criminal. Panelo referred to the partnership between the government outfit APO and the private company United Graphic Expression Corp., or Ugec, on the production of those millions of e-passports.

In 2015 APO obtained a 10-year “exclusive contract” from the DFA for the e-passports, with the total amount estimated at more than P25 billion. Now the Duterte Harley administration did not cancel the contract, meaning, it was actually perpetuating a crime with full government backing.

Not long ago, the CA-rejected DFA head, former foreign affairs secretary-designate Perfecto Yasay Jr., stated that the Duterte Harley administration could still “cure” the legal infirmities of the e-passport deal between APO and Ugec. We would just close our eyes to the criminal act—was that it?

And so Panelo said that the “supplemental arrangement” would not work, noting that the joint venture between APO and Ugec was the heart of the anomalous arrangement. Those two outfits actually forged their tie-up on Nov. 27, 2014—almost one amazing year before the DFA actually gifted the APO with that fat juicy exclusive contract. It was possible that the genius behind it all could see the future that he sensed the APO would need the tie-up 12 months later when APO would get the DFA contract. Then again he could also simply apply some bureaucratic manipulations for things to fall into place.

In 2015, when DFA awarded the contract to APO, lawmakers already hollered foul because APO did not have the capability to produce millions of e-passports. Due to such inability, government-owned printers like APO resorted to “subcontracting” and later on “leasing,” which were nevertheless both banned. To go around the ban, APO thus formed a joint venture with the private company Ugec about a year in advance of the fat juicy contract.

One thing stood in the way: The Bangko Sentral, the BSP itself, which was the sole maker of Philippine passports in the past decades. But all of a sudden the BSP said it could not handle the production of e-passports.

In his report to Duterte Harley, the CA-rejected Yasay said that the BSP was pressured to give up the e-passport printing—and “for no obvious compelling reasons,” at that. Yasay said that the Presidential Communications Operations Office led by Secretary Herminio Coloma made the “initiative” to grab the passport production from the BSP. Given such a scenario, the DFA of course would have to hire APO, which the DFA actually did on Oct. 5, 2015.

Panelo opined that the joint venture was void right from the start.

Question: What should the DFA do with the “voided” setup in its e-passport contract?

At the same time, the BSP has been silent on the issue all this time.

No wonder, lawmakers would want to know if some BSP officials were also part of the deal that served as the billion-peso golden parachute for some people of Benigno Simeon aka BS.