Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Arroyo first to receive e-passport from DFA

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo receives the first e-passport to be issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City on Tuesday.- GMANews.TVAfter a long delay, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday finally launched its electronic passport or “e-passport," with President Macapagal Arroyo as the first recipient.Mrs. Arroyo received the e-passport with code EA000001 at the DFA main office in Pasay City where launching ceremonies were held, a report aired over Q’s Balintanghali said.As of now, Filipinos are either using manually scripted passports (green or brown) or machine-readable passports (MRP). In mid-2007, the DFA main office and the more than 40 Philippine embassies and consulates issued about 1.4 million machine-readable passports. [See: Frequently asked questions regarding the 'e-passport']The DFA said that the e-passport is more advanced than the machine-readable passport because it has a 64-kilobyte microchip where the security features and personal data of the holder are stored – a measure meant to combat fraud and tampering of the travel document. Machine-readable passports will remain valid until their expiration date but that manually scripted passports will no longer be recognized starting April 10, 2010, the DFA said.The department said it will be releasing an initial two to four million e-passports in two to three months time. Once released, the DFA said Filipinos can avail of these passports within three to four days for P950 each.
The country’s passport modernization is deemed “crucial" as the International Civil Aviations Organization (ICAO) gave countries until April 2010 to implement the e-passports. The US State Department has also said that the absence of machine-readable features in a passport makes it easy for suspected terrorists to use fraudulent travel documents in entering the country. [See: E-passport delay hampers anti-terror fight – US]In February 2007, a lower court stopped the DFA from implementing the e-passport project in partnership with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) based on a petition of BCA Corp., a firm that signed a build-operate-transfer contract in 2000 with the department. The DFA later got the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s order.The department terminated the contract with BCA on Dec. 9, 2005, citing the investor’s “inadequate" capitalization.BCA Corp. wanted to re-negotiate the contract with the DFA, saying it has already infused more than P300 million in the project. The DFA refused.Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary Domingo Lucenario said the e-passports will now be supplied by the French company Francois Charles Oberthur, which bested 14 other companies in a bidding conducted by the BSP on June 26, 2008. Lucenario said Francois is the supplier of e-passports in Belgium, touted as the first country to comply with the ICAO standard. Sixty other countries have reportedly started issuing e-passports in compliance with the new global standard.Francois won the contract with a bid of P859.7 million, well below the approved budget cost of P970.5 million, the DFA said.

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