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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

DFA seeking additional budget to resolve 4-M passport backlog, upgrade consular offices

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The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has urged lawmakers to raise its budget for next year to bankroll interventions that will address the 4 million passport issuance backlog nationwide and other consular concerns after the budget department thumbed down funding for these measures.

During its annual budget hearing, DFA officials, led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., said their funding for next year has been slashed by nearly 7 percent to P20.91 billion, based on the 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

DFA Assistant Secretary Myla Macahilig said the agency’s approved budget under the NEP is 46.5 percent lower than its proposed funding of P39.079 billion.

Macahilig explained that the additional P18 billion that was not approved for next year included the funding for the establishment of more temporary off-site passport services (TOPS) and consular offices (COs) in the country.

“We appeal to the honorable members of the house for further support in favor of consideration of other activities and programs on top of the NEP that we believe are essential for the DFA in fulfilling its mandate,” she said at the House of Representatives budget hearing on Tuesday.

“We ask the committee’s generous attention for reconsiderations,” she added.

In her presentation, Macahilig proposed to lawmakers the P18.18 billion worth of budgetary items for their reconsideration, including 13 Tier 1 items worth P3.801 billion that include the funding for the operation of 10 TOPS and construction of new COs.

Based on Macahilig’s presentation, the DFA needs P53.369 million to operate 10 TOPS next year while P62.109 million is required to construct COs in five areas: Dasmarinas, Cavite; Paniqui, Tarlac; San Jose, Antique; Pagadian City and Olongapo.

Also included in the proposed Tier 1 items for lawmakers’ reconsideration are the P452.820-million funding for the foreign posts opened in 2019 and P243.349 funds for three posts planned to be opened.

Passport backlog

Lawmakers asked the DFA officials on the passport backlog which Undersecretary Brigido Dulay confirmed.

“We have three million to four million backlog for passport renewal which really stems from the pandemic which has limited our ability to provide the usual regular consular services and passport renewals to a lot of Filipinos,” Dulay told the House Committee on Appropriations.

“Secretary Locsin in the past few months has already ordered and instructed us to put up additional temporary off-site passport services. This is a non-GAA endeavor project, this is a special one. We just have to open additional passporting sites to address the backlog,” Dulay added.

Dulay said the DFA would need additional 10 to 20 TOPS to be able to “minimize” the current backlog. However, Dulay explained that the funding for the TOPS was slashed from the agency’s proposed 2022 budget.

“The funds for the existing TOPS came from our existing budget. And we are running out of funds. We do not have any financial resources to allocate further. And that’s the help we are seeking from you. If we can make more TOPS then it will be the solution to resolve the backlog,” he said.

Dulay also appealed to the lawmakers to approve the additional funding for the construction of new COs that would be able to also address the passport renewal backlog.

“If those will be established, it will be an additional help for us. The more offices we can build the faster we can fix the backlog to address and serve the needs of the people,” he said.

Dulay explained that the 3 million to 4 million backlog estimate was based on historical annual passport renewal data of the DFA which is about 4.8 million.

“In 2020, because of the pandemic, we only served 1.7 million. From that we estimated that the backlog is around 3 million to 4 million,” he said.

“Admittedly, with the backlog, the demand outstrips the supply. Our limiting factor under the current pandemic is the ability of our consular offices to accept more than what is limited by the IATF rules,” he added.

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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