MANILA, Philippines, October 3 ------ The Department of Foreign Affairs asked lawmakers to restore P544 million in funding for its consular operations in 2023, citing the possible loss of jobs among personnel and closure of temporary offsite passport services (TOPS) used to meet the demand for passport renewals.
The requested amount comes on top of the proposed P20.304 billion the DFA and its attached agencies were requesting for the coming year – an amount roughly 2.5% less than its P21.05 billion-budget in 2022. Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Henry Bensurto Jr. told senators during the agency’s budget hearing that of the additional P544 million, P136.7 million would fund the continued operation of the DFA’s 20 TOPS sites. The offsite services, initiated in 2020, caters mainly to applications for passport renewals. Currently the DFA operated 20 such sites in malls across the country. “The TOPS, they will end by December. If there is no P136 million, they will stop operating the first day of January (2023),” Bensurto said, adding it could impact as much as 10,000 applicants per day. Aside from this, the DFA said the remainder of the additional P544 million it requested for consular operations would cover the continuation of contracts of service for personnel working in its consular operations, as well as the establishment of additional local sites.
Bensurto added that operations in consular offices in Manila would also be affected since the DFA would be unable to extend contracts of service of personnel. “Marami pong mawawalan ng trabaho dahil yung impact po ng cut na iyon, yung mga contract of service that we recruited including doon sa consular offices and sa [DFA] ASEANA [office],” he told lawmakers. In response, senators expressed support for the agency’s request and asked officials to submit detailed proposals before plenary debates where the national budget will be approved.
Despite increased demand for its consular services, lawmakers in Congress urged the DFA to improve its passport and apostille operations, citing complaints raised by the public in accessing limited appointment slots as well as delays in passport releases. Apostille services involve the authentication of documents to be used by overseas Filipinos. These services are available in all consular offices. Earlier this week during the recent confirmation hearing of DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo, Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel also expressed interest in probing the government’s contract with APO Production Unit Inc. APO is outsourced agency contracted by the DFA to print passports. Responding to this, Manalo said the contract with the group was scheduled to expire soon and that he would place it under review before deciding whether or not the agency would renew the agreement.
In recent months, the DFA has seen an increased demand for its consular services. From January to August 2022, figures from the agency showed at least 2.8 million passports were issued so far – an amount that already outpaced the 2.5 million passports issued in 2021. The same trend was seen for its visa, authentication, and civil registry services. “The budgets of the OCA (Office of Consular Affairs) Home Office and the foreign service posts have to be reset to meet the increasing demand for passports and other consular services,” the DFA said.