By Argyll Cyrus Geducos and Francis Wakefield
Malacañang on Monday rejected a move to require people renewing their passports to submit their certificates of live birth.
People renewing their passports should not be burdened by requiring them to bring their birth certificates just because their data was lost, said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
He issued the statement after Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said a “pissed” passport production contractor the government had terminated “made off” with the data.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday confirmed Locsin’s revelation that the personal database of the public was taken by the company.
“It is a security concern. I believe this happened several years ago. The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) is looking into it and I am sure they will come up with an appropriate solution so that nothing of this sort happens again,” Lorenzana said.
“It is a very grave security concern and quiet alarming. These are personal information such as full name, date and place of birth and other information that could be used illegally,” he added.
The situation prompted the DFA to “rebuild” its database for passports issued before 2010 because a previous outsourced passport maker took all the data when contract terminated. Locsin said passports issued after 2009 do not need to submit their birth certificates as the digital copy of the document is already stored in their database.
But Panelo, in a statement, rejected the idea of requiring applicants to bring their birth certificate for passport renewal.
“Applicants should not be burdened by submitting original copies of their certificates of live birth, obtaining which requires another application process before the Philippine Statistics Authority, to renew their passports just because the producer lost their relevant data,” Panelo said.
“The submission of the old or current passport which the applicant seeks to renew should suffice for the purpose. The ongoing practice is not only cumbersome to everyone affected but is a form of red tape which this administration frowns upon and will not tolerate,” he added.
Despite this, Panelo said the passport breach is a “serious and grave matter.”
According to the Palace official, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) has been directed to investigate the incident and ascertain whether certain provisions of the Data Privacy Act of 2012, have been violated, particularly with respect to the personal information of the data subjects.
“The investigation should not, however, end here since the current arrangement for the printing of passports should also be examined to determine if there are violations of pertinent laws which may be detrimental to the public,” Panelo said.
“We are one with the Filipino people in their quest for truth and so we will not treat this issue lightly,” he added.
In a tweet, Locsin said he was wondering why the previous contractor was terminated in the first place.
“Why was the previous contractor terminated? New technology? Then demand it to acquire the new technology but leave the job to it. Di ba (Right)? But that means no kickback. In short, people made money by changing contractor,” he said.
Locsin also said the DFA did nothing about it or could not do anything about it because they were in the wrong… However, he assured that such incident will not happen again.
“We did nothing about it or couldn’t because we were in the wrong. It won’t happen again. Passports pose national security issues and cannot be kept back by private entities. Data belongs to the state,” he said.
In a response to a netizen, Locsin said he was not sure how affected passport holders could be assured that their personal information would be protected.
“How can we be sure? I don’t know. Why you guys who understand data acquisition and protection should keep up the attacks,” he said.
Lorenzana said the Department of National Defense (DND) is ready to assist the DFA should they need their help to retrieve the personal information if still retrievable.
“We will get in touch with the DFA to find out the details of this issue and how to mitigate its ill effect,” Lorenzana said.
Earlier, Secretary Locsin vowed to “autopsy” those behind the alleged data breach in the passport system, as well as the “yellows” who orchestrated the existing service contract to manufacture the E-passport.
In a series of tweets over the weekend, Locsin suggested that a Senate probe should be held in order to unmask those who perpetrated the crime and for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file the appropriate charges.
“I will autopsy the ‘yellows’ who did the passports deal alive. This is called evisceration,” Locsin said, apparently referring to people closely identified with the Aquino administration.
Locsin’s reactions came following reports that former private contractor, Oberthur, reportedly took all the passport data when its contract was abruptly terminated to give way to the entry of APO Printing Unit, a tiny and little-known division under the Presidential Communications Office (formerly the Office of the Press Secretary).
Oberthur is a French company that was hired by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) through bidding, to supply all the materials necessary to pro¬duce the machine-readable electronic passports (MREPs).
The BSP was the official printer of Philippine passport from 2006 to 2015. Its agreement with the DFA was terminated three years ago to give way to APO’s entry.
Locsin said the current problem that the DFA is facing started under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and “got worse” under the term of President Benigno Aquino III.
“It will be solved by PRRD (President Duterte) and DFA under Locsin. The yellow crowd who perpetrated the passport fraud are in panic because we are gonna autopsy their crooked deal. Period,” he said.
He further assured that “no power on earth” could stop him from unravelling the truth behind the passport mess.
“I just want it fixed and not repeated,” the foreign affairs chief said.
Since Locsin assumed office last October, his Twitter account has been swamped with complaints from netizens about the new DFA regulation requiring those who are renewing their passports to present their birth certificates.
Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People chairman and Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said the alleged data breach in the passport system should be probed.
Santos said the matter should be thoroughly investigated and those guilty punished for the sake of overseas Filipino workers who will also be affected by this incident.
“We appeal for thorough investigation, no sacred cows, those guilty be prosecuted,” he said. (With a report from Leslie G. Aquino)