The Philippine Embassy and Consulate assured Filipinos in the UAE that there are no changes in the passport processing and documentary requirements in the UAE. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Who needs to present a birth certificate to apply for a Philippine passport:

  • Minors (18 years old and below)
  • Those with lost passports
  • Those whose existing passports were issued before the roll-out of ePassports in 2009
  • The birth certificate must be authenticated by the Philippine Statistics Authority

Dubai: Filipinos in the UAE have expressed fears of the risk of identity theft since news broke that an outsourcing company contracted by the Manila government to facilitate passport applications had run off with their passport data.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Saturday claimed that a terminated outsourcing company “took away” the personal data of passport holders.

“We are rebuilding our files from scratch because previous outsourced passport maker took all the data when contract (was) terminated,” Locsin stated through his personal Twitter account.

Locsin explained that the previous contractor got upset when their services were terminated that “it [company] made off with data”.

“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,” Locsin, who was appointed as Foreign Secretary in October, said.

Identity theft 

Dubai-based Attorney Barney Almazar, director of Gulf Law, questioned the inaction of the government as the data mess poses a major threat to Filipinos.

“The government is the custodian of documents and passport data but the owner of the information is the person himself. The information of the public has been put in danger. The biggest risk is identity theft,” Almazar told Gulf News.

“If the outsourced company is withholding the data, the government has the authority to seize it. If not, that data could be misused, stolen or sold whatever the motivation of the person may be.”

Almazar explained that the private rights of the contracting company are trumped by public interest in this case and that the state should act immediately.

“In Philippine law, there is hierarchy of rights and the interest of the state is the highest. In this case, even if, supposing the government is at fault in drafting the contracts, the interest of the state is superior to the commercial obligation to the company, which should yield regardless.”

Airin Usman, an accountant who renewed her passport on Sunday, expressed the same concerns.

At the moment, it’s very scary because of the possibility of identity theft. But what is more alarming is the fact that the government is not doing anything about it until now. Why are they not taking action?

- Airin Usman, Filipina accountant

“At the moment, it’s very scary because of the possibility of identity theft. But what is more alarming is the fact that the government is not doing anything about it until now. Why are they not taking action?” Usman, 34, asked.

“That outsourcing company should not have free reign on sensitive information of millions of Filipinos. Is the Philippines waiting for our data to be compromised before they will take action.”

Sherryl Uy Bangalan, a homemaker who also just renewed her passport, agreed.

“I was shocked to learn that our data could be mishandled like that. I thought we were giving our information to the government directly and not to a third party. If the terminated contractor indeed has a beef with the government, they can easily do something that can sabotage the government, including us.”

Meanwhile, to “rebuild our files”, Locsin said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) started requiring passport applicants to bring their birth certificates. He did not clarify when the data mess happened.

Mission’s assurance

The Philippine Embassy and Consulate assured Filipinos in the UAE that there are no changes in the passport processing and documentary requirements in the UAE. They also allayed fears of many regarding potential misuse of their information.

“With reference to the alleged breach of privacy on data used for passport renewals, the embassy defers to the statement given by the DFA Home Office on the said matter.

"We do not foresee a change in the number of passport applications/renewals in the embassy. As far as we are concerned, there is no change in procedure and requirements, as outlined in the embassy website. These are in accordance with existing rules and regulations on passport processing/renewal.

"Authenticated PSA-issued copies of birth certificates are still required for minors (18 years old and below), those with lost passports, and those whose existing passports were issued before the roll-out of ePassports in 2009.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs assures clients that information gathered from passport applications remain confidential, and are only used for the said purpose in accordance with existing government rules and regulation on the matter.”