Tourism industry leaders in Region 7 renewed call for the Department of Foreign Affairs to take action on their complaint on its directive giving accredited travel agencies only until the end of the year to continue assisting clients in passport processing.
Robert Lim Joseph, who chairs the Tourism Educators and Movers Philippines and chairman emeritus of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies, said small travel agencies will be forced to close if the DFA pushes through with the deadline.
He said a “substantial portion” of the incomes of travel agencies come from fees collected for passport processing.
The DFA initially decided to end the accreditation of travel agencies last June, but decided to extend their accreditation until the end of the year.
This was part of the department’s efforts to ensure all applicants go through the same process, including queuing for their date of appointment, processing, payment, encoding and claiming of their passports.
The DFA, hoping to deliver consular services more efficiently at no additional cost, has opened mall-based consular and extension offices in several provinces, including Negros Oriental and others in Region 7, covered by the public-private partnership arrangements.
The mall-based offices also operate during mall hours, including some hours during the weekends.
Before the accreditation of travel agencies expires, the DFA aims to put in place an appointment system, allowing the public to schedule by phone their personal appearance for the processing of their applications.
But until that happens, it has placed a five percent cap on the processing of applications done through accredited travel agencies and prohibited their liaison officers from entering the premises of the DFA offices to assist their clients, Joseph said.
He added that putting a cap on the number of applications to be processed has resulted in a backlog among travel agencies.
He said the directive goes against Republic Act 8239, or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, which has provisions stating that applicants can file applications with accredited travel agencies “provided that the agent shall be responsible for the authenticity or bona fide of the supporting documents being represented to meet the requirements for the application of passports.”
This shows that travel agencies have the right to process passport applications. The directive discriminates against people who want to avail of the services of travel agencies for personal reasons, he added.
The group has written to President Benigno Aquino III, the DFA and has sought the help of some congressmen.
Joseph said that instead of improving the service, the directive has resulted in longer lines and longer waiting periods, with added costs to those who live far from the city and have no return the next day.
He said travel agencies not only collect money from their clients, they aid in making sure the forms are correctly filled up, especially for those not used to such processes.*PNA
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