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TWO senior employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are facing administrative charges and possible dismissal after they were allegedly caught red-handed dealing with passport fixers and facilitating early release of passports on Tuesday.

The DFA’s Office of Consular Affairs handles an average of 8,000 to 10,000 individual passport applications, on top of those being handled by travel agencies that usually reach 3,000 to 5,000 daily.

The DFA Office of Legal Affairs said administrative charges have been filed against the head secretary of DFA Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Jet Ledda and an officer assigned in the office of Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. The two are senior staff members who have served the department for almost 10 years.

The two DFA employees were allegedly caught conniving with a passport fixer whose services were engaged by a Hong Kong-bound couple identified as Vann Matthew and Bernielin Samson. The couple, along with their child and in-laws, were scheduled to leave on May 4 but their passports were supposed to be released at a latter date.

On Tuesday the couple sought the assistance of a fixer operating outside the DFA Office of Consular Affairs located in Aseana building in Parañaque City. The couple paid P15,000 for the early release of the five passports.

A BusinessMirror source, known to the passport applicants, forwarded the text message of Samson to her husband before she went to the DFA consular affairs office on Tuesday to get in touch with the insider contact of the passport fixer. The text message to her friend said:

“Andito po ako sa DFA old building, ’yung pupuntahan ko sa DFA MOA na contact ni sweetie [referring to her husband Matthew] dito eh ’yung [referring to head secretary of Ledda]. ’Yung kilala ni sweetie dito ang nagpabilis ng printing ng passport. Sa QC BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] pala piniprint ang passport.”

DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya confirmed the filing of administrative charges against the two erring employees, saying the department is ready to institute reforms to protect passport applicants from being victimized by the fixers.

A senior diplomat, meanwhile, said the DFA has conducted an immediate investigation into the involvement of passport fixing of the two senior staff members.

“We were able to trace the culprits and referred the cases to the office of Secretary del Rosario. They are now facing administrative charges and will be suspended while we conduct further hearings,” said the senior diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I believe justice has been done, and their suspension will cripple the passport-fixer syndicates who continue to victimize our poor applicants,” said the senior diplomat.

He added that officers conniving with passport fixers have been happening for many years, but there were no formal complaints lodged by the victims.

He said the department has recently dismissed a casual employee assigned at the consular affairs office for conniving with passport fixers.

“This incident appears to be the first time that senior officers have been involved in passport fixing. It’s very sad and disappointing for us in the diplomatic service to find out that our colleagues are involved in illegal activities,” said the senior DFA official.

The increasing number of passport applicants, up to 12,000 daily, at the consular affairs office is causing the backlog in the release and facilitation of the travel documents, consequently prompting applicants to engage the services of the passport fixers lurking around the DFA consular office.

In an earlier BusinessMirror report, Ledda confirmed the operation of online passport fixers who block en masse passport application schedules and sell them to passport applicants who need to rush the release of their travel documents.

The online passport fixers charge exorbitant fees for blocked schedules, ranging from P1,500 to P15,000, depending on the dates of application.

The DFA has embarked on a P3-billion electronic and machine-readable passport project with French Belgian firm Oberthur to upgrade the country’s travel document. The DFA, in partnership with the BSP, started the issuance of the e-passport in August 2009. – Estrella Torres / Reporter http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/nation/10732-2-dfa-senior-employees-caught-dealing-with-fixers