At Large

Passport delays

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Recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued an advisory on a “machine breakdown” that would delay the release of electronic passports (ePassports).

The delay is only for “two to three days” and regular releases will resume this week, a report said. The glitch doesn’t seem all that major, except perhaps for travelers who urgently need passports for foreign travel and those who, like overseas workers, have no control over their travel plans and who could be penalized (if not lose their jobs) if they don’t arrive at their destinations on time.

This isn’t the first time a delay in the issuance of passports has occurred, and travelers have been complaining of the much longer time it now takes for the DFA to issue passports. This, on top of numerous complaints on the shoddy workmanship, such as loose stitching and binding that lead immigration officers to suspect Philippine passport-holders of using fake travel documents.

Such instances are certainly embarrassing, since a passport is the highest form of identity and a symbol not just of one’s nationality but also of a country’s legitimacy.

Even more alarming is a report that the cause of the latest glitch was a very minor problem: computer servers that overheated because the air-conditioners in the room where they are kept are no longer being used. Maybe it’s a form of cost-saving on the part of the main supplier of ePassports, a private contractor called Oberthur Technologies. But should the public pay for the desire of a private firm to limit costs and maximize profits?

This, even if complaints have been aired on “overpriced” passports that, so government-run and -managed printers contend, could have been produced for a much lower price and with the latest technology.

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Although it is the DFA that issues passports, these are actually printed by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. It would only seem logical that the Bangko Sentral would turn to other government printing facilities—such as the National Printing Office or APO, a government-controlled printing concern—to take up the task of preparing the passports, given the sensitive security issues involved.

The Bangko Sentral and DFA, however, after holding a public bidding, awarded the ePassport project to its usual supplier: Oberthur. This despite numerous complaints on the quality of the work it has done, and the delays in release.

Now, why government agencies would favor a private contractor over public entities with similar capabilities and whose income would be channeled back to the government and used to improve their own services is something we need to ask the bigwigs in the DFA and Bangko Sentral.

Meanwhile, Oberthur needs to explain why the delay in the issuance of passports took place, and what steps it will take to correct the situation. The DFA and Bangko Sentral also need to explain why they continue to repose trust in Oberthur despite its rather spotty record.

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Unicef, the United Nations agency most directly concerned with the needs of children, is appealing for almost $1.4 billion to “meet the immediate, life-saving needs of children in 45 countries and regions globally.” These areas are currently gripped by conflict, natural disasters and other complex emergencies. Funds raised this year will also go toward improving disaster preparedness, and “to strengthening the resilience of communities to withstand and minimize the impact of new shocks.”

High on the list of priority countries are Syria, Mali and the Central African Republic, which are experiencing worsening conflict. Ted Chaiban, Unicef’s director of the Office of Emergency Programs, says “children are extremely vulnerable in emergencies, often living in unhealthy and unsafe conditions at high risk of disease, violence, exploitation and neglect.”

In the Philippines, Unicef is working to raise some $23 million to address humanitarian needs in the Mindanao armed conflict, the continuing Typhoon “Pablo” crisis, and other anticipated crises in other parts of the country.

Donors that have contributed more than $5.6 million to ensure children’s needs are met include the governments of Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Hungary. Private businesses and Filipinos have contributed more than P9.7 million (US$235,000) for those affected by Pablo. Still, the appeal is 66 percent unfunded, and there’s a long way to go before the entire amount needed to meet the emergencies—existing and anticipated—is raised.

Children are the most vulnerable and needy in times of disasters and conflict, in the face of disease and crises in basic services like education, water, shelter and care. They are truly deserving of our attention and our highest priority. After all, they are our future.

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NOTES. The name of the first nominee of Pilipinos with Disabilities (PWD), the only accredited party-list group for the disabled community vying for votes in May’s election, is Mike Barredo (and not Barretto). Although voters choose the party, not the nominee, Mike’s family and friends might want to know he is in the running. PWD is No. 10 on the ballot.

De La Salle Lipa celebrates its 50th year with a “jubilee musicale production” called “Jubilaryo, Lasalyano.” The musical, which features a cast of students and their family members, will be held on March 1 at the DLSL-Sentrum. From just 220 high school students in 1962, De La Salle Lipa has grown by leaps and bounds and now counts more than 10,000 students. The Golden Year, says DLSL president Br. Kenneth Martinez FSC, “is another milestone in the institution’s mission of teaching minds, touching hearts, and transforming lives.”

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