Sen. Leila M. de Lima has expressed alarm over the reported prevalence of passport renewal “fixers” operating online which is worsened by the inefficiencies in government services amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 921 directing the appropriate Senate Committee to investigate said passport renewal fixers to cut red tape and improve the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) passport renewal service.
“The presence of red-tape in government transactions makes for a veritable breeding ground for ‘fixers’ who capitalize and exploit these systemic inefficiencies for financial gain,” she said.
“With the accelerated migration of government services and transactions online owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘fixers’ have followed suit and have moved their illicit operations to various social media platforms, Facebook in particular,” she said.
“It behooves the government to undertake all necessary actions to prevent such abuses against Filipinos in need of passporting services,” she added.
Fixers have migrated to Facebook to capitalize on the delays in the passport renewal services of the DFA, noting that these “fixers” have figured out how to make multiple online reservations for passport renewals and are profiting by selling these slots to desperate Filipino travelers.
The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) has already recognized the delays in the passport renewal process and signified that they would help the DFA in addressing these issues.
While it is a given that “fixers” are unscrupulous individuals who knowingly prey on the vulnerabilities and desperation of others for financial gain, De Lima said it cannot be denied that the prevailing inefficiencies in government services are also an enabling factor in the prevalence of such predatory practices.
“There is a need to go after these ‘fixers’ and ensure they are punished under the full extent of the law,” she said.
“Passporting services address key human rights issues such as the right to identity and nationality, and right to travel. If we allow predatory individuals to restrict our citizens’ access to these services for profit, we would also, in effect, aid and abet the violation of the said rights,” she added.
Likewise, De Lima said DFA should invest in proper safeguards, such as IP address tracking and blockers, and other technologies that can reduce the possibility of fraudulent activities by these fixers.
“There is likewise need to determine how to further expunge red tape from passport renewal services in order to improve its public services to ensure that everyone has fair access to such services without being preyed upon by ‘fixers’,” she said.
Ultimately, De Lima underscored the need to determine how the DFA, ARTA and other concerned government agencies can be further strengthened to improve passport renewal services for Filipinos.