New passport is a source of pride | Inquirer Opinion
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New passport is a source of pride

A wonderful break during my recent trip to New York to speak at a “side event” in conjunction with the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women was a leisurely buffet lunch at the Delegates’ Lounge overlooking the East River.

The meal was hosted by Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, formerly the Philippines’ permanent representative to the United Nations, which explains why doors were readily opened for him and other ambassadors and staffers greeted him as they passed each other on the corridors.


Cabactulan headed, together with Mila Alora, board chair of the government’s APO Production Unit, a joint DFA-APO team (called Team USA) conducting orientation and training sessions for consuls, vice consuls and consular assistants not just in major cities in the United States but also in Mexico, Canada, Chile and Brazil. These were in connection with the scheduled release of the new e-passports in the middle of this year. Aside from the orientation in Washington, DC, New York and Chicago, similar training sessions were also scheduled for London, Madrid, Tokyo, Singapore and Doha, Qatar. Joining our party at the lunch was Consul General Mario de Leon Jr.

The purpose of the orientation sessions, said Cabactulan, was to brief the attendees on the importance of the new e-passports—which are studded with security features—to protect travelers from identity theft and ensure that there is a “one to one” match between the identity and the biometrics recorded in the passport and those of the bearer.


Cabactulan expressed “relief” at the culmination of the “passport project” which he had headed at the Department of Foreign Affairs for many years. “After hurdling so many challenges like getting the approval of the International Civil Aviation Organization and passing the stringent requirements of the [budget and science and technology departments] and the Government Procurement Policy Board for the multiyear obligational authority, finally, here is the most important piece of identity document that is at par with the world’s best,” he said.

* * *

The new e-passports are marked by the use of the latest security technology, including a unique and remarkable design depicting Philippine historical sites and national symbols, including the use of lines of the national anthem, the “Lupang Hinirang,” on every page. Such features not only give the new passports a truly distinctive “Filipino identity,” it is also meant, said Cabactulan, to “make the passport holder proud.”

Then, too, to save Filipino travelers from embarrassing episodes in the past like passport pages coming apart, mainly due to shoddy stitching, while being examined by immigration agents, the APO has employed double stitching on the new documents to ensure their integrity.

Still, despite all these improvements, there will be no additional fees for the new e-passports, while passports valid beyond 2016 can still be used by travelers.

Asserts the team behind the new e-passport: “There is integrity and quality written all over the new e-passport that will be hard to fake and replicate.”

* * *


At this time, questions are already being raised about the use of credit cards to pay for passports, as is the practice in other countries, as well as nonappearance for passport renewals. Such issues, say the DFA-APO representatives, are being seriously studied.

This last is a concern especially for overseas Filipino workers and other citizens who live in far-flung areas and find it hard to travel to the nearest Philippine consulate.

Still, consular staff continue to reach out to Filipinos needing assistance abroad. A fine example is Consul General Gene Calonge of Chicago and his staff who went out of their way to conduct missions in 16 states, even if it meant working on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, which are nonworking holidays even for diplomatic posts abroad.

But one problem that could arise even with (or especially with) the issuance of the new e-passport is the need for closer coordination between the DFA and other agencies. Concern is raised particularly with the Bureau of Immigration, which falls under the Department of Justice, and whether the new e-passport will be read by BI machines at our ports of entry.

Another point raised is the use of rudimentary stamps for Philippine visas, which are issued by the BI, an irony given the strides in security, integrity and technological advances being made in connection with the new e-passport.

* * *

Despite the disappearing pine trees and the polluted air, Baguio remains the summer capital of the country, in our hearts if not in reality.

Still, cultural workers are doing their best to preserve Baguio’s preeminence during this season, hoping to attract visitors as well as residents with events designed to both entertain and educate, all part of the Summer Music Festival.

Apart from a summer music camp and concert series for promising young musical artists, there will be a dinner concert of the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra on April 30 at Hill Station. The featured soloist in this event is Hansel Ang, the Promil piano prodigy. A community concert with a popular program will also be held on April 29 at the University of the Cordilleras owned by the Salvosa family.

The concert series resumes on June 5 and July 2, which fall on weekends, making it convenient for Manila folk to travel to Baguio for the cool air and cool music.

Partnering with the organizers is Genesis Transport Service Inc., which has graciously agreed to ferry the artists from Manila to Baguio and back for free.

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TAGS: APO Production Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs, e-passport, Passport
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