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No easy way out for those who hock passports for loans

18 January 2017

Vice Consul Alex Vallespin
By Vir B. Lumicao

Stories of Filipino domestic workers who ask for new passports either because they have lost their previous one or these were being kept by a loan shark have become so common that it’s now difficult to believe them, according to a Consulate official.

For this reason, the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) section has taken a more cautious approach in granting requests for passport replacements.

In the first working week of the year alone, ATN received two complaints of passports being held by lenders who charge astronomical rates. According to the passport applicants, their debts had so ballooned that it had become impossible to repay them.

Then in the second week of January more cases were reported, this time, of borrowers seeking help to regain their passports from so-called runners or conduits of the loan sharks, running to ATN for help to recover their travel documents.

Time and again, the Consulate has warned OFWs not to hock their passports as these belong to Philippine government, but the problem of workers losing their travel documents to debtors has persisted.

Such cases have stretched the patience of Vice Consul Alex Vallespin, ATN head, who said the section had heard so many such tales that it had now become cautious.

“Medyo ano na kami sa mga ganyan eh, marami na kami kasing istoryang naririnig,” Vallespin said in an interview on Jan 9.

The SUN had just called his attention then to a pregnant OFW outside his door who claimed she lost her passport in Worldwide House after she renewed her work contact some time back.

The woman was worried because she wanted to fly out soon as she was six months pregnant, but ATN was allegedly suspecting she had hocked her passport. She said she had reported the loss to the police and had gone to ATN to apply for a new one.

In a show of pique, Vallespin said, “Buntis ba talaga siya? Baka siya yung kausap naming noong August. Kasi may nag-declare dito na buntis siya, nagsangla siya, tapos pagtingin namin ay flat na flat ang tiyan eh.”

Because of such cases of OFWs resorting to lies to cover up giving up their passports in exchange for a loan, Vallespin said his staff had become more meticulous in handling passport replacements.

On the flipside are the belligerent debt runners who are accusing the section of protecting the debt defaulters, said Vallespin.

But he said that first, there would be no issue if the illegal money lenders asked for other things as collateral, and not passports.

 “Secondly, what is their visa here? Why are they bellicose?” Vallespin said of the runners.

He warned the Consulate could report the debt fences to Immigration authorities because they had already made so much money out of illegal lending.

Third, he said that if their employers were the financiers, these employers would be hit because they were in money lending without licenses.

And, fourth, if the employers were the financiers, they were making money in Hong Kong without paying taxes.

Vallespin said the practice of using passports as collateral persisted because it was lucrative for the borrower to hock the travel document, then just declare it as lost so she can apply for a new one. By just paying for a new passport, the OFWs could effectively run away from their debt obligations.

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