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APO has come a long way

A VISIT to the APO Production Unit facility in the LiMa (Lipa-Malvar) Economic Zone in Batangas should tell even the casual observer that this government printer, charged with the printing of security-sensitive documents, has come a long way from its downtrodden state in 2011.

At the time, before the appointment of a new board and new management in APO, the concern was on the verge of closing shop, hamstrung by a thinning cash flow and a growing pile of payables. But the new board, faced with a choice between closing shop entirely or breathing new life into it, chose to struggle against the odds and bring APO back to life.

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Facing a shutdown, the APO board and management decided to seek sources of new funds. But even if it was an authorized government printer, no government financing institution would risk investing in it. Instead, it was a private bank that chose to extend a lifeline through a loan that is now almost paid in full.

Through sound fiscal policies, the new APO management was able to bring down the cost of materials as well as of delivery rates, increase its capacity to produce security forms, and even win new accounts from government offices. Today, APO is also in charge of two major printing projects: those of excise tax stamps for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the new e-Passport, through a fully integrated and automated e-Passport system that ensures the security and integrity of the document.

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For the first time in its history which dates back to 1974, APO in recent years has been able to remit dividends to the national government while servicing its debts. This signaled its turnaround from a government entity long in arrears to its suppliers and government offices it deals with, to one able to contribute to the national coffers while taking care of the government’s needs for secure forms and looking after its own people.

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AND yet lately, the APO and another government printing entity, the National Printing Office, have come under fire. One of the charges is for the “overprinting” of excise tax stamps for liquor and cigarettes which, so accusers claim, facilitates the entry and sale of smuggled and illicit “sin” products.

Another charge, aired by no less than Acting Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, is that APO is not competent enough to print the e-Passport, even as the Department of Foreign Affairs has entered into a 10-year contract with it. Indeed, the printing concern has already delivered the first phase of the project—personalization or data-page printing.

Yasay had even reportedly gone so far as to make inquiries with the Bangko Sentral, which used to print passports with the support of a private supplier, if it could resume the printing of the travel documents. Bangko Sentral authorities, it has been learned, informed the acting secretary that they were no longer interested in printing passports and wanted to concentrate on printing currency.

It must be noted that the new process of printing e-Passports adopted by APO is an entirely “in-house” operation. Using data and biometrics gathered by the DFA, the APO encodes the personal information on the data pages, stitches the pages together, inserts the chips containing vital information, and, using special security paper, prepares the passport covers and even the embossing on them. Under the old system, a private foreign entity supplied the security paper, the covers and even the stitching.

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MAYBE there is a reason for the haste with which Yasay, through the DFA, is seeking to scuttle APO’s e-Passport project. The new e-Passport will be carrying a new design that, aside from showcasing the Philippines’ rich culture and heritage, also bears security features that will safeguard it from tampering or even faking. Already, folders with samples of the new passports and a briefing document are ready for distribution to immigration offices around the world, so officials would know what security features to look out for. These are due to be launched worldwide this month.

As for the excise tax stamps, when APO entered into contract with the BIR in 2013, it launched an “integrated system” that involved not just the printing of stamps but also the creation of a security software process for ordering, distribution and monitoring. The system, known as the Internal Revenue Stamps Integrated System, and the procedures adopted by APO, now essentially mean that “all taxes due to tobacco products are accurately and fully paid.”

The BIR, says APO, has been investigating the printing and use of “bogus tax stamps” on smuggled or illicit cigarettes. But these efforts were directed at chasing after counterfeit stamps, and not overprinted stamps.

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PART of a “tour” of the LiMa APO plant is a visit to a room dominated by a giant shredder, into which misprinted or faulty excise stamps are fed and turned almost to pulp.

The shredding room, like the entire APO plant, is monitored by closed-circuit TV, and even the bags of “confetti” are carefully monitored and accounted for.

The funny thing is, the officials airing accusations against APO have yet to talk to APO management directly or visit the plant in LiMa to see for themselves whether the charges regarding the e-Passport and the excise stamps have any basis in fact. Should they bother to take the time and opportunity to check things for themselves, they might yet come away impressed with the operations of APO, and the long way it has come from the days when it was on its death throes.

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TAGS: APO Production Unit, Batangas, Industry, LiMa, Lipa-Malvar Economic Zone, opinion, printing
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