MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva has called on the government to open more off-site passport processing centers in malls outside of Metro Manila as the easing of COVID-19 cases prompts Filipinos to hunt for overseas jobs again.
In a statement, Villanueva said the move of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to open six Temporary Off-Site Passport Services (DFA-TOPS) in NCR last month was “a great solution that should be replicated and scaled up” nationwide.
Passport processing, he added, is “an important employment assistance not only to OFWs but to first-time job seekers.”
“Well, in a sense, you can view it as job generation activity,” Villanueva said.
As travel restrictions get rolled back globally, the senator is optimistic that this will open up economies that will take back furloughed workers, many of whom were Filipinos.
Citing a report from the DFA, Villanueva noted that some 420,205 OFWs affected by the COVID economic slowdown were repatriated with government help since the pandemic shut down businesses.
“For many of them, the forced vacation is over. And some of them may have expired passports. The rush to renew this indispensable travel document is what is causing the logjam in passport applications,” Villanueva said.
In anticipation of the global economic reopening next year, he said the government should make sure that OFWs have the necessary documents with them.
He said even non-OFWs will benefit from more passport processing centers.
“Kasama rin po dito yung mga lolo at lola na sabik ng makabisita sa kanilang mga anak at apo na naninirahan sa ibang bayan,” he said.
The DFA forecasted 4.2 million pieces of passports processed in 2020 but ended the year with 1.73 million passports issued.
It also targeted 4,556,325 pieces of passport issued this year but as of July 2021, only 1,281,836 had been released.
“Dahil sa COVID surges, marami pong kababayan natin ang hindi nakapag-apply ng passport. Dagdag pa ang domestic travel restrictions plus health protocols. Kaya pag bumaba po ang mga cases ng COVID, asahang tataas ng applications for passports,” he said.
Villanueva is one of the authors of Republic Act 10928, which extends to 10 years the validity of Philippine passports.
Provisions guaranteeing the ease of securing passports and other work documents are also highlighted in his bill that seeks the creation of the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos.