By ELLEN T. TORDESILLAS
IT was only Thursday last week that Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. knew the agony that Filipinos who are applying for a new or renewing their passport had to go through.
In a post in my Facebook last Friday, Yasay said: “I am hearing for the first time that there are incessant breakdown or interruptions in internet connections which I will address today.”
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
How the problem that has caused so much stress to many Filipinos finally got to the Secretary underscores the usefulness of Facebook.
Yasay was informed about the problem and the toxicity that it is causing passport applicants by his wife, Cecile Joaquin Yasay.
And how did Cecile learn about it?
Political consultant Malou Tiquia and Canada-based Diana Baylon informed her about my post detailing the agony my nephew and niece were going through in getting an appointment for the renewal of their passports and reactions of my Facebook friends relating the same experience.
Diana Baylon was the physical therapist of Cecile Yasay’s father, Nereo Joaquin, when she was still with the Philippine General Hospital.
Diana learned about my FB post from her brother-in-law, JB Baylon of Nickel Asia and fellow Malaya columnist.
Here’s my Feb. 5, 2:10pm FB post:
“DFA passport online service sucks. My nephew and niece have been trying to get an appointment for renewal of their passports for a March trip. The earliest available appointment is Feb. 16. That’s still okay. When they tried filling up the application form, and submitting it, they get the advisory “online connection server failed.” We tried calling up the numbers on the website, nobody answers. We have been on this since last night. Please naman huwag nyo namang gawing kalbaryo ang napakasimpleng gawain na renewal of passport. Kung hindi gumagana ang inyong server, magbigay ng notice para hindi maubos ang oras namin sa harap ng computer. Kailangan ba kami pumunta na lang sa DFA office mismo? Magbigay naman ng tamang advisory. Mahirap ba yan?”
Immediately, other shared similar woes. My other niece, Joanna Nunieza Viduya, posted, “I feel you Tita, been trying to schedule online since Tuesday and same problem din na-encounter ko.”
Writer Rochit Tañedo said: “Tried about twenty times before I got through.”
I told Rochit she should get a medal for patience and perseverance.
Rosemarie Samar said she was also into it the past two hours. “Grabeeeee!!!! it’s been 2 hrs ndi pa rin aq tapos sa online appointment. down un system, palagi time out. paki-improve naman sayang yun binabayad naming tax senio eh. disappointed aq sa system, ndi convenient. grabee!!!”
Later she posted this: “After 3 hrs and 28 mins natapos din ang appointment. Super disappointing. Now, struggle naman sa pag download ng form. Tsk!”
Ana May Pacheco Abalo shared her own experience: “Tama grabe within 3 days lahat na ng oras nag try ako dahil akala ko busy lang ang server sa oras jan sa pinas. Pero ganun parin ngyn 7 am na dito from kagabi wala pakong tulog .nakaka inis sayang pag ppuyat wla man lng advice na Hnd tlaga mkka gawa ng appointment. sobrang disappointed. buti sa iba nanjan lang sa pinas ehh pano kung katulad namin both kami mag asawa nandito sa ibang bansa.. tapos mahigpit pa sa authorization letter . hay nko.”
Worse was what my friend’s brother- in -law had to go though. She said: “My brother-in-law and his family had to go to Cebu just to apply for passport kasi sobrang puno ang queue sa Manila kahit sa satellites sa malls. They applied online. Flew to Cebu for picture taking and had the passports delivered to Laguna. Ganoon na kalala.”
Yasay’s first reaction to the posts was a history of the problem with the government printer, APO (Asian Productivity Organization): “I agree that the online appointment system for the application and renewal of passports sucks. Not only that, but also the unreasonable delays in the delivery of passports to the applicants. This is because the previous administration had maneuvered the removal of passport printing from the BSP and awarded it to APO Corporation, a government entity ill-equipped to handle the job, without any public bidding.”
He didn’t offer any solution.
A former APO official refuted Yasay’s explanation saying, “I am no longer with Apo but inanities mouthed by Yasay are simply revolting. It is DFA that is the one in charge of scheduling.”
Last Friday, Yasay issued this statement:
“Thank you for all your suggestions on how to improve our passport services at our various consular offices at the DFA. They are important and valuable to us. We will take them into serious consideration.
“Since day one that we assumed office we hit the ground running in trying to address this problem, which we continue to do so in earnest. The most serious situation is in our head consular offices in ASIANA. We have contained the problem in all our other RCOs and satellite offices all over the country. As some of you have correctly pointed out, our task is not simply to point out a problem but to solve it immediately without causing undue difficulties to the public or a disruption of vital services. Thank you for your patience and please continue to provide us with your helpful inputs.
“I was advised by my officials that the appointment system of UGEC informs the public about the backlogs and gives them option to choose the most convenient RCO. I am hearing for the first time that there are incessant breakdown or interruptions in internet connections which I will address today. I am also checking widespread reports of fixers with direct connections from UGEC that sell appointments.”
Per Secretary Yasay’s statement he was going to “address the problem” last Friday.
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