MALACAÑANG is conducting its own separate investigation of the allegedly anomalous P8-billion e-passport project of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) over discovery that the project was illegally sub-contracted to a questionable private entity, according to a party-list lawmaker.
The 10-year contract for the printing of passports had been awarded by the DFA to APO-Printing Unit (APO-PU), a quasi-government entity, which, in turn, sub-contracted it to privately-owned United Graphic Expression Corp. (UGEC).
Rep. Aniceto Bertiz 3rd of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) party-list disclosed the anomaly on Thursday in a speech during a seminar sponsored by Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute at the Diamond Hotel in Ermita, Manila.
According to Bertiz, the sub-contracting deal was a “double whammy” because it was not only illegal per se but also grossly disadvantageous to the government because UGEC is a dubious firm.
“UGEG was hastily created during the past administration with a very small capital [that is smaller than the amount of the contract]. There are people who benefited and pocketed [the money],” he said.
“The Office of the President is also investigating this,” Betriz added.
He said UGEC, with only P800 million in assets and some P200 million in cash, is heavily in debt.
“What we originally probe is the delay in the issuance of passports but it opened a Pandora’s box that there was illegality in the contract of the DFA with APO-PU and UGEC. This is the cause of the delay because UGEC is heavily indebted,” Bertiz added.
Earlier, Salvador Panelo, chief presidential legal counsel, said APO-PU committed grave abuse of discretion and could be held criminally and administratively liable for engaging UGEC’s services.
Panelo added that the government printer “should refrain from engaging, sub-contracting or assigning the printing of passports to private entities, including UGEC [United Graphic Expression Corp.]” because it is beyond its authority.
The Palace official pointed out that under a Memorandum of Agreement forged between APO-PU and the DFA on October 5, 2015, the government printer is “required by law, rules and regulations to use its own facilities, equipment and machinery in printing the passports for the DFA.”
Curiously, the joint venture agreement executed by APO and UGEC on November 14, 2014 indicated that the government-owned printing facility had already anticipated the e-passport contract almost one year ahead of the formal signing of the MOA with the DFA.
Panelo clarified that the outsourcing scheme by APO-PU resulted in a breach of a resolution by the Government Procurement Policy Board, as well as pertinent General Appropriations Act and Republic Act 9184 prescribing rules on public bidding.
The Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions (Paflu) has called on Communications Secretary Martin Andanar to voluntarily step down to give President Rodrigo Duterte a free hand to look for a “more efficient replacement attuned to the challenges of the job.”
The call came on the heels of the President’s announcement that Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno has been fired “for loss of trust and confidence.”
Paflu scored Andanar for keeping a tight lip on the e-passport controversy rocking the state-run APO-PU, an attached agency of the Presidential Communications Office, which Andanar heads.
The President earlier enjoined Andanar to refrain from performing his task as presidential spokesman amid his frequent runs-in with media practitioners and other quarters that have not taken kindly to his statements and pronouncements on behalf of Duterte.
Paflu president Eleuterio Tuazon tagged the ongoing vilification of the National Printing Office as a “vain and ill-advised attempt” to draw attention away from the questionable sub-contract between APO-PU and UGEC pertaining to the e-passport project.