SENATOR Joel Villanueva on Wednesday said the government should open more off-site passport processing centers in malls outside of Metro Manila, as the easing of COVID-19 cases prompts OFWs to job-hunt again.
Villanueva said the move of the Department of Foreign Affairs to open six Temporary Off-Site Passport Services (DFA-TOPS) in NCR last month is “a great solution that should be replicated and scaled up” nationwide.
Passport processing, the senator 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, this will open up economies that will take back furloughed workers, many of whom were Filipinos, the chair of the Senate labor and employment committee said.
Villanueva praised Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin for expanding the passport intake capacity of the DFA by ordering the opening of more DFA-TOPS sites.
“Maganda po ang ginawa ni Secretary Locsin. Kung mapaparami pa po ang mga yan, mababawasan ang backlog sa passport applications,” Villanueva said.
The latest report by the DFA said 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,” he said.
In anticipation of the global economic reopening next year, we should make sure that OFWs have the necessary documents with them, Villanueva said.
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 the Villanueva bill creating the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos.