By Michaela Del Callar
Getting a Philippine passport used to be a nightmare, with endless tales of waiting agonizingly in kilometric lines at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and dealing with the layers of bureaucracy, aside from the vulture-like fixers.
Philippine Passport Application inside Malls
Pretty soon, you can conveniently apply or pick up your new passport at a mall after shopping or having dinner even on a weekend. If you prefer to transact in a DFA consular office, you can soon dial a call center, which can set an appointment at a date and time most convenient to you.
The DFA has unveiled several steps aimed at simplifying and turning passport application into a chore as easy as picking your grocery at a nearby mall.
Aside from bringing its passport offices and services closer to the people in the cool comfort of shopping malls, the DFA said its mall-based consular offices would also follow mall operating hours to allow applicants to do their passport transactions way after office hours from Mondays to Sundays.
The novel changes would be a big relief for applicants, who could not leave their offices, workplaces or schools to be at the DFA consular offices during regular hours. Soon, consular offices at the malls would also be open for business for three hours on Sundays to deal with applicants.
Aside from the public comfort, the new passport scheme would bring huge savings to the government.
“More than anything else, it is the compulsion to serve the public better that made us make this happen,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, who is overseeing the passport project.
“What we envision with the relocation of our consular offices to shopping malls is a DFA that would be able to provide fast and efficient services to our people in settings that offer them both comfort and convenience.”
The project, among the Public-Private Partnership initiatives of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s administration, is expected to generate P1.04 billion in government savings in terms of operating costs in the next 10 years, Seguis said.
Two passport processing centers are now operational in two malls in Cebu and Pampanga. Six more are scheduled to open next month in key cities like in Angeles in Pampanga, Batangas, Davao, Baguio and in Metro Manila. By September, two more passport outlets in malls would be opened in Metro Manila, another in Batangas, Bacolod, Dumaguete and in Legaspi city in Albay province.
In October, the DFA’s passport center at a mall in Alabang, Muntinlupa would be opened while two more offices in Laoag, Ilocos Norte and in Tacloban, Leyte were due to open shop in 2013.
Savings, Seguis said, were expected to initially come from 16 consular offices across the country that would occupy more than 7,000 square meters of prime space in so-called DFA partner malls.
Seguis said the DFA expects to generate more savings once it concludes negotiations with its private sector partners for the hosting of its remaining consular offices. The DFA wants all its existing consular offices in the provinces to be serving the public in shopping malls in major cities nationwide by 2014, according to Seguis.
Before the end of the year, the DFA announced plans to put up a dedicated call center that would allow passport applicants to choose the date and time they would like to be accommodated in any of its consular office across the country.
Once operational, the proposed call center is expected to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the notoriously long queues that have been associated with the simple task of applying for a passport, Seguis said.
Despite the advent of the mall-based passport outlets, the DFA said it would continue to bring special and mobile passport services to far-flung areas.
In a bid to bring equality among passport applicants, the DFA, meanwhile, took a bold step when it announced it would no longer accredit travel agencies to apply and secure for the passports of their clients. For a long time, those agencies have benefitted from special privileges for its clients, including guaranteed same-day processing and access to passport express lanes.
Travel agency-assisted passport applicants shell out anywhere from P1,800 to P7,000 for these special privileges but the DFA only collects P950 from each applicant for ordinary processing and P1,200 each for expedited processing.
Unlike the speed and comfort afforded to travel agency clients, ordinary passport applicants, specially from far provinces, sometimes troop to DFA offices as early as midnight and wait in line for long stretches of time before they could be served.
“We strongly felt there was a need to correct this situation,” Seguis said. (PNA)