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Consulate swamped after agreeing to replace passports of OFC borrowers

26 June 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap

No photo description available.
About 1,400 Philippine passports were seized by police during a raid on lending company OFC

The Consulate has been swamped with requests for new passports after announcing on Sunday, Jun 23, that it will replace all the travel documents seized from a lending company raided by the police earlier this month, but with restrictions.

Previously, all holders of passports lost to money lenders were issued only one-way travel documents, and were told to apply for a replacement at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

According to Consul Paulo Saret, head of the assistance to nationals section, clients of  OFC, from where 1,400 Philippine passports were seized by the police during a raid on Jun 5, have been coming in droves in a rush to apply for renewal or replacement.
“Ang dami nilang pumupunta, puno lagi ang ATN,” said Saret in a text message.
Consul Saret
So far, he said around 500 of the passports seized have been turned over to ATN. But even those whose passports are not yet with them have been pressing them to issue replacements.

“After receiving guidance from the DFA that all pawned passports are automatically cancelled, we started processing the application for renewal (for those whose passports have been turned over to us) or replacement for lost passport (for those whose passports are not yet with us but insisting on new passport) after they issue an Affidavit of Undertaking that for the 1st offense, they will be placed under the DFA Watchlist, but for the 2nd offense they will be denied issuance of new passport,” said Saret.

According to ATN officer Danilo Baldon, those who apply for renewal are required to pay the regular fee of $480 plus $200 for the affidavit; but those who declare their passports as lost will have to pay penalties, resulting to a fee of more than $1,000.
The record haul from OFC and the potential loss of job or other problems that could be faced by their holders prompted the Consulate to ask for permission from the DFA to process requests for replacements in Hong Kong.

At least two of the borrowers had already been sacked by their employers for pawning their passports with a lending company, according to Baldon. They were issued one-way travel documents so they could return to the Philippines.

Those who needed to renew their working visas were also issued travel documents pending the release of their new passports. ATN has been giving them letters attesting to the loss after Immigration officers reportedly demanded a police report from them before agreeing to process a new visa.
During a briefing with the OFC borrowers on Jun 23, Baldon emphasized that the borrowers were not going to be let off easily because their new passports will have the following restrictions:

1)      They will be valid only for 5 years, instead of the usual 10 years;

2)      The holder will not be able to get the cancelled passport back because it will be sent to the DFA which will put them on a watch list;

3)      Those found to have pawned their passports at least once previously will be issued a replacement just to allow them to continue with their work, but will not be allowed to process a new employment contract.

Baldon also advised the 30 or so OFC borrowers who managed to get their passports back from the police to surrender them either to the Consulate or the DFA as they are deemed cancelled.

Told that some of them managed to leave Hong Kong using the redeemed passports, Baldon said they should be advised that they can no longer use them again. “Huhulihin sila sa airport,” he warned.

The same practice was enforced with about two similar incidents in the past, when hundreds of passports were seized by the police from illegal money lenders in two separate incidents, one in Hung Hom, and another in North Point.
OFC was besieged by borrowers after the raid
The Police Public Relations Branch disclosed the number of seized passports from the raid on OFC in response to an emailed query from The SUN earlier this month.

The police also said a 35-year-old local man was arrested for “breach of money lenders license conditions” in an office on 206-210 Des Voeux Road Central.”

According to the police statement, an initial investigation revealed that the arrested man had offered loans totaling more than $4 million to more than 1,400 victims, who were asked to surrender their passports and employment contracts as collateral.

The police, however, did not respond to a query on why at least 30 of the passports were returned to the holders, instead of turning them over to the Consulate in line with the standard operational procedure.

The suspect, a man surnamed Wong, part owner of OFC and Cheers Holding Company Limited, was reportedly released on police bail and required to report back in mid-July.

The District Crime Squad of the Wan Chai Police Station is investigating the case.

The arrest was apparently over the failure of Wong to register the Sheung Wan address in the license issued to Cheers Holding. Its license shows addresses in Shamshuipo and Wanchai.

Cheer Holding also operates Cheers Employment Limited, with which it shares the  Wanchai address.

Cheers Employment recently had its accreditation with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office suspended after being found to have collected the passports and Hong Kong ID cards of its recruits from the Philippines, unless they paid certain fees.

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