30 October 2021 – A fixer securing online appointment slots with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for passport renewal applicants fell in an entrapment operation launched by the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Parañaque City on Friday.
Authorities identified the suspect as an owner of a travel agency who claimed that he had a contact inside the DFA-Office of Consular Affairs (DFA-OCA) who helped him book the appointment slots.
The arrest was the result of an extensive case build up that stems back from a complaint that ARTA received on July 2021.
The anonymous complainant said some travel agencies offered to book appointment slots for passport renewal applicants at the said office for an increased price. At the time, applicants had difficulty in booking slots through the DFA website as it stated that there are no available slots for the next two months.
ARTA agents conducted surveillance and discreet investigation at the travel agencies possibly involved in the fixing activity, where they encountered the fixer who offered to book appointment slots for them for P2,500 per passport.
Initially, two passports from an asset and P5,000 was handed to the fixer for his illegal services. However, this was returned and refunded to the asset on August 2021 after the fixer failed to book the appointment slots due to the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine.
The ARTA agent maintained communication with the fixer. At the start of October, the suspect contacted the agent, informing them of available appointment slots.
The agent later met up with the fixer and handed him the same passports and amount required.
A few days after, the agent received the details of two appointment slots forwarded from firstname.lastname@example.org, which is seemingly an official email of the DFA.
The renewal applications were approved in about a week.
The agent and the fixer agreed to meet again for the processing of another passport renewal application. The suspect was then arrested by elements of the ARTA-NBI team after he received the passport and P2,500-payment.
He is now under the custody of the NBI and will face possible charges for violation of Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.
Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, ARTA Director General, said the Authority will continue its investigation and conduct hearings to confirm if the fixer has a contact inside the DFA-OCA.
“Patuloy ho naming iimbestigahan, magkakaroon kami ng mga hearing ulit dito… dahil kataka-taka kung paano sila nakakuha ng slot sa loob,” he said.
Undersecretary Carlos Quita, BGen. Ret., ARTA Deputy Director General for Finance and Administration, also said that they will continue to work with various government agencies to address the issues in the passport appointment system of the DFA.
“Our officials at the DFA are very much concerned with this,” he said. “Nakikipagtulungan kami sa iba’t ibang ahensya para maresolba po ito at matulungan ang ating mga kababayan.”
For the past few months, ARTA has been working with the DFA and connecting its officials to other agencies in an effort to decrease its backlog in passport applications and streamline its processes.
The ARTA chief also issued a stern warning to the public to not engage with fixers.
“Huwag po natin tangkilikin ang korapsyon. Tulungan po natin ang gobyernong ayusin ang mga proseso,” he said.
“Totoo na napakahirap ng sitwasyon ngayong may COVID-19… but we’re trying to improve. Kaya huwag naman po tayo gumawa ng ilegal, ibig sabihin, pag may mag-aalok ng fixing, tanggihan niyo,” he added.