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Cheaper passport fee seen

A much cheaper passport fee looms as the Department of Foreign Affairs undertakes negotiations with state-owned printing firm APO Production Unit to lower the cost of production by as much as P280.

APO is the the agency that bagged the multi-billion printing of electronic passport last year.

According to an unimpeachable source who spoke to Manila Bulletin over the telephone, the idea to reduce the passport fee came following an informal review conducted by the DFA on the contract entered into by APO and the department in 2015.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. reportedly sought an informal review of the agreement with APO to ensure “speedy processing” of passport. After the review, the source said it was concluded that the DFA will continue to work with the “new” APO Production Unit.

The memorandum of agreement that granted APO the authority to print the electronic passport through a new integrated system was signed October 5 the previous year by then foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and then Presidential Communications Operation Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma.

APO is described in the said agreement as the only Recognized Government Printers (RGP) that expressed willingness to print the e-passport. It is operating under the PCOO. The other two RGPs are the National Printing Office and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The agreement was made possible after the Department of Budget and Management issued a Multi Year Obligational Authority to the DFA for the printing of e-passport for 10 years, covering the period of 2016-2026.

However, DFA’s new partnership with APO was the subject of numerous, high profile criticisms focused primarily on the qualification of the said RGP in printing security documents.

Industry experts point out that proof of APO’s questionable credentials to print passports was its decision to engage United Graphics Expression (UGEC) to fulfill its contractual obligations with the DFA.

A check at its website showed that UGEC is a private printing company that specializes in packaging materials, ads and promos and collaterals. It has a huge printing facilities in Dasmariñas, Cavite.

APO entered into a joint venture agreement with UGEC reportedly for the lease of mutlti-billion worth of state-of-the-art printing equipment that is now installed and being used at APO’s plant in Malvar, Batangas.

The DFA, however, is not in the position to take up and assess the said joint venture agreement as its contractual obligations dictate that it will only deal directly with the new APO who is the main contracting party.

It was also learned that a representative of Secretary Yasay recently met with APO officials during which the possibility of lowering of the cost of passport fee was raised. (ROY MABASA)