DFA Asec: No indication of passport appointment syndicates inside DFA

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Passport applicants at the DFA

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — A Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary denied the existence of a syndicate inside the department allegedly causing problems with the passport appointment system.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Frank Cimafranca told CNN Philippines' On The Record that there has been no solid evidence substantiating claims of a syndicate.

"There is no indication. We will continuously investigate. If it's the appointment, there is no trace whatsoever that there is anyone from DFA involved in this," Cimafranca said on Thursday.

Filipinos lamented the difficulty of securing a schedule in the department's online passport appointment system.

Since early January, enraged netizens called on the DFA to fix its system after their website showed the schedule to get a passport was full until March.

READ: Filipino travelers call out DFA for fully-booked passport appointment schedule

Some alleged that "syndicates" who hoard passport appointment schedules to sell at sky-high prices are behind the DFA fiasco.

The DFA has tapped the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the alleged existence of syndicates preying on passport applicants by selling appointment slots for as high as P10,000.

While he denied the presence of syndicates in DFA, Cimafranca said there is a possibility that slots were being "hijacked," as the ones newly opened on Tuesday were immediately filled in just about two hours.

READ: DFA opens 100,000 passport appointment slots

Cimafranca added only about 60 to 70 percent of the people who book an appointment actually show up.

Travel agencies not to blame

Linda Tan, President of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies, said the public must not blame travel agencies for the lack of slots, as they themselves do not have any.

"Nagulat kami dahil wala na nga kaming slots, paano kami makaka-hijack, wala naman kaming access sa system?" Tan said.

[Translation: We were surprised because we don't even have slots, so how can we hijack when we don't have access to the system?]

The service fee charged by travel agencies to their clients is also approved by the DFA. Tan said this could go from P1,700 to P2,500.

'Just the tip of the iceberg'

Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said he has filed a House resolution to look into the issue, saying the syndicates and fixer are "just the tip of the iceberg."

"Ang talagang problema dito, may backlog tayo sa passports, at gusto nating ito ang mas malalimang tignan," Zarate said.

[Translation: The real problem here is the backlog in passports, which is what we want to look into deeper.]

Cimafranca said one possible solution to meet the rapidly increasing demand for passport applications is to open more consular offices.

"Two years ago, I already pointed out in Congress that we are having a problem in capacity, that's why we need funds to open more consular offices," he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said more appointment slots will be opened in the coming days.

The DFA has also been implementing reforms regarding passport applications recently, which included a "Passport on Wheels" program.