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MANILA, Philippines -- Inching closer to becoming a law, the amendments to the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 aims to protect the constitutional right of people to travel and gives an option for applicants to acquire a passport with five or 10 years of validity.
House Bill 5854 or the Revised Philippine Passport Act of 2012, which seeks to amend Republic Act 8239, was among the bills that passed on third reading in the House of Representatives before Congress adjourned for a break last month.
Albay Representative Al Francis Bichara, chairman of the foreign relations committee, said the bill will also provide the mechanism to resolve the continuing cases of offenses relating to the issuance, possession, use, suspension, and revocation of passports.
Bichara said the government has the duty to issue passports using tamper-proof and latest data management technology as much as practicable or any travel document to any citizen of the Philippines or individual who complies with the requirement of the proposed act.
Other features of the bill include:
- the inclusion of former Senate Presidents, former Speakers of the House of Representatives, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals, the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House of Representatives to the list of those entitled to diplomatic passports;
- offficial delegates to international, regional conferences or on official mission abroad may be issued diplomatic passports with full powers by the President of the Philippines or the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs;
- creation of a Special Board of Inquiry that will handle and adjudicate complaints for cancellation of passports and imposes stiffer penalties against perpetrators of fraudulent and fake passports;
- offenses relating to issuances of passport or to false statements in any application shall be punished by a fine of not more than P60,000 and imprisonment of not more than 12 years and perpetual disqualification from holding public office to offending government officials;
- imposition of fine on offenses relating to forgery, mutilation or altering any passport or travel document or department stamps of not less than P75,000 but not more than P150,000, and imprisonment of not more than 15 years;
- forgeries of five or more passports or travel documents in the travel and recruitment industry shall be considered as massive forgery tantamount to national sabotage and punished by a fine of not more than P1 million and imprisonment of not less than seven years but not more than 17 years;
According to Bichara, the bill also detailed the requirements needed for submission of specific documents for minors, adopted persons, widowed, annulled or divorced women, applicants to be adopted, naturalized citizens and persons who have reacquired Philippine citizenship.
Muslim Filipinos, traveling for the purpose of Hajj, need not comply with the requirements for the issuance of a regular passport. A Hajj passport is non-renewable and may not be used as a basis for the issuance of a regular passport.
They may be issued a passport valid for three months and for one trip only, upon submission of an endorsement from the Office of Muslim Affairs, a certificate of tribal affiliation and a signed personal guarantee form and joint affidavit of two disinterested persons who are familiar with the birth details of the applicant.