Friday, August 14, 2015

Party-list solon asks DFA to explain P8-B e-passports printing deal

A lawmaker is asking the Department of Foreign Affairs to explain its decision to transfer  the printing of e-passports from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to a privately-owned firm that supposedly has no established track record in printing security documents.

In a statement, Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III questioned the DFA’s decision to sign an P8-billion contract with APO Production Unit for the printing job for the next 10 years.

“For the last several years, Philippine passports have been printed at the security plant complex of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas since it is the only government-owned printing facility that has the capability and the necessary security features required in producing such vital travel documents. So why did the DFA suddenly agree to transfer the production of the country’s passports to the APO Production Unit, a private firm that has no established track record for printing security documents?” Gutierrez said.

What is more intriguing about the deal, Gutierrez said, was that the awarding of contract, as well as the company’s  outsourcing of the printing job to UGEC, were all done without the benefit of a public bidding.

“If the DFA really intends to modernize and make more secure Philippine passports, it should have considered the world’s leading producer of e-passports and e-booklets,” Gutierrez said.

The lawmaker said proof of APO Production Unit’s questionable credentials to print passports was its decision to engage a subcontractor, United Graphic Expression (UGEC), to fulfill its contractual obligations to the DFA since it lacks the capability to print passports with the necessary security features.

“Given its outdated printing equipment, the APO Production Unit is not even considered a top commercial printer,” he noted.

Among the security features that the new maroon-colored passport should possess are a hidden encoded image; an ultra-thin, holographic laminate; and a tamper-proof electronic microchip.

A private company, the APO Production Unit has taken on the status of a “quasi-government body” after it was placed under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

But according to Gutierrez, the company’s employees continue to be members of the Social Security System (SSS) and its adoption under the PCOO was “essentially for the purpose of supporting the printing of the government’s information and propaganda materials.”

He said the DFA should clarify the deal it signed with APO Production Unit especially since the integrity and reliability of Philippine passports are at stake.

“This is more than just a question of convenience, but one of national security. The security features are there precisely to prevent our passports from being easily counterfeited and used by criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations,” Gutierrez said.

Sought for comment, DFA spokesman Charles Jose told GMA News Online in a text message, "I have to check with the office concerned."  Xianne Arcangel/LBG, GMA News

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