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OFWs hail 10-yr passport but hit fee hike

30 May 2017

Overseas workers in Hong Kong have welcomed moves to extend the validity of the Philippine passport from five to 10 years, but warned against any increase in its price.

 “We welcome the Department of Foreign Affairs’ pronouncement that Philippine passports will soon have a 10-year validity. This should, however, not come with a passport fee increase,” said Dolores Balladares, chair of United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-Migrante HK) in a statement.

The DFA announcement followed the Senate’s 18-0 passage of Senate Bill 1365 on third and final reading on May 15. The House of Representatives approved its own version of the measure, House Bill 4767, on Feb 13.

The Senate and the House are now set to convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the measure before submitting the final version to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.

The 10-year validity of the passport would make traveling abroad easier, especially for OFWs, said Sen. Cynthia Villar, sponsor of the bill and vice chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee.

The measure amends Republic Act 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996.

It was sponsored in March on the floor by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, and authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Grace Poe, Villar, Loren Legarda, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

Balladares, in a press release on May 19, said the passport extension is part of the Hong Kong OFWs Agenda submitted to President Duterte at the start of his term.

“This has long been a reasonable demand of Filipinos working overseas, especially domestic workers in Hong Kong. Considering the five-year validity of the current passport, OFWs usually only use it twice within this period, as we only get one home leave every two years,” Balladares explained.
She, however, warned against an increase in the passport fee.

“Reportedly, extension of validity will also come with a doubling of the cost of the passport, which will only burden overseas Filipinos, as well as the public in general. This is in contrast to the demand of overseas Filipinos, who pay up to thrice the passport cost in the Philippines,” she said.

The Consulate charges a $480 fee for a new passport, 324 percent more than those acquired in the Philippines at the current exchange rate.

“Still, they want to double this amount? Overseas Filipinos do not live in the lap of luxury and even President Duterte knows that. Increasing passport cost goes against his expressed wish of unburdening Filipino migrants,” Balladares added.

“Providing passports to Filipinos is a government service and, as such, should not be treated as a money-making scheme. OFWs are not cash cows,” she said. – Vir B. Lumicao

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