Updated: Mar 13, 2020
DFA on passport mess: 'No assurance on safety and security of some data'
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) finally issued an official statement on the possible personal data leak of passport holders.
This, after DFA Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr. tweeted last week on the matter, sparking panic among citizens.
"Only a Senate investigation will assure the public that there was no breach or loss of data. Until then, the Department can give no assurances on the safety and security of some data," the DFA said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
The DFA added that it will take the word of APO Production Unit, Inc. (APUI)- the government's contractor on printing passports - that there is "no breach in passport data and as sufficient justification in removing the birth certificate requirement in the renewal of passports."
Locsin earlier said the personal data of millions of passport holders is not "runaway-able" but remains inaccessible.
"Data is not run-away-able but made inaccessible. Access denied," the DFA chief wrote on his official Twitter account.
On January 8, Locsin stirred panic after revealing a disgruntled outsourced passport maker "took all the data" when their contract was terminated.
He said he was told by APUI that they can finally access the passport data, but it was not as useful and parts of it were corrupted.
"It was hostile but APO told me yesterday they found a way into Oberthur's system but the data was not all that important and parts of it corrupted," Locsin tweeted.
The Oberthur he mentioned is Francois Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire, the French company that allegedly took government data.
APUI chairperson Michael Dalumpines said Oberthur Technologies has turned over all the printing machines and the data it contains. APUI replaced the French firm, which was the previous contractor that printed e-passports for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Dalumpines also clarified the reason why DFA is requiring applicants to provide birth certificates to renew their passports.
He said only those with old green and machine-readable passports are required to present their birth certificate, adding this is because older passports lack the security features of the new e-passports, and a birth certificate provides an extra layer of security to avoid fraud.
Locsin tweeted on Tuesday he has signed the order removing birth certificate requirement for passport renewals.
POGO probe deepens: Philippine passports offered to Chinese via WeChat
Some Chinese-run travel agencies in the Philippines dangle local passports, birth certificates and bank accounts to their compatriots on WeChat, in another criminal racket, a Senate inquiry uncovered on Monday.
The agents also peddle "de-listing from blacklists and airport release if barred entry" to Chinese tourists planning to travel to the Philippines, said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, showing screen captures of the advertisement.
"They can even give Philippine passports to Chinese tourists... Obviously, these are criminal acts," Hontiveros said. "Two agencies are advertising these criminal services freely," she said.
Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, earlier uncovered a prostitution racket targeting Chinese expatriates, also allegedly run on WeChat.
Hontiveros summoned and questioned a certain Empire Travel Agency over its alleged influence in the Bureau of Immigration.
Informants alleged that Empire's boss Liya Wu has been "very generous" by giving branded items to some Immigration officials, Hontiveros said.
Wu, who was present at the hearing, belied the accusations. She said her 22-year-old travel agency never facilitated the entry of Chinese workers in POGO or Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations.
Empire doesn't have its own office inside the Bureau of Immigration headquarters in Intramuros, she said.
The Department of Tourism will start reviewing several travel agencies that may be offering illegal services for Chinese tourists, Tourism director Rowena Montecillo told the Senate panel.
The Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality is expected to hold another hearing next week on the illegal entry of POGO workers in the Philippines.