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Senators seek probe on passport mess

Macon Ramos-Araneta

Senators on Sunday called for an investigation into how some foreigners were able to obtain authentic, government-issued IDs—including passports—with one lawmaker warning that the budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) could be recalled over the issue.

Senator Imee Marcos on Sunday joined calls for a thorough investigation of the problem, after the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) said a certain group provides authentic government IDs to foreigners working for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

These IDs included those from the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., the PAOCC said.

Senator Marcos said it was reprehensible to hear that the Philippines has become a playground for criminals around the world.

“This is scary and should be investigated thoroughly,” she said in Filipino.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who has also called for a probe, said the bigger concern was that the country might be giving fugitives from other countries new identities here.

The BIR and PhilHealth earlier said they would investigate the matter, with the tax agency wanting to check if the confiscated IDs were indeed authentic.

In a radio interview, Senator Ramon dela Rosa said the P24 billion budget of the DFA could be jeopardized over the issuance of passports to foreigners.

He told radio dzBB that the granting of Philippine passports to foreigners could jeopardize national security.

He added that the budget, which has already hurdled the Senate, may still be recalled.

During the hearing Wednesday night, DFA officials were quizzed on the release of Philippine passports to foreigners.

The DFA officials said they merely relied on the birth certificate from the PSA, saying the birth certificates and the passports were all genuine.

In the same hearing, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri noted that several Chinese nationals in the CARAGA region were holders of Philippine passports.

Zubiri said he would ask the Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino or the committee on public order to conduct an inquiry.

Earlier, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said officials of the PSA would be summoned back to the Senate to explain the issuance of birth certificates to foreigners, which enabled them to get Philippine passports.

He said a foreigner who is issued a certified true copy of a birth certificate can use it to secure a Philippine passport.

The Senate on Thursday night agreed to recall the plenary approval of the PSA budget for 2024 due to the uncovered irregularity.

Hontiveros last week urged Malacanang to ban POGOs to protect the country’s national security.

During the hearing on the proliferation of scam hubs in the Philippines, the senator expressed grave concern over the government ID cards fraudulently obtained for Chinese nationals who worked in Smart Web Technology, the recently raided company in Pasay City.

She said the IDs issued to these Chinese nationals enabled them to become legal residents in the Philippines and to get Philippine passports.

“Considering our current dispute in the West Philippine Sea, it is alarming that we are giving an all-access pass to our country to Chinese citizens through these POGO hubs,” Hontiveros said.

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