TWO committees of the House of Representatives have approved a consolidated bill updating the law on the issuance of Philippine passports.
The consolidated measure, endorsed by the House committees on foreign affairs and on appropriations, includes House Bill (HB) 6399, authored by Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the proposed new passport law would replace Republic Act (RA) 9239, otherwise known as the Philippine Passport Act of 1996.
He said the Constitution provides that the Filipinos’ right to travel “is inviolable.”
“Accordingly, the government has the duty to issue a passport or a travel document to any citizen of the Philippines or individual who complies with requirements prescribed by law,” he said.
He added that the right to travel “may be impaired only when national security, public safety or public health requires.”
The former immigration commissioner pointed out that to enhance and protect the right to travel, only minimum requirements for the application and issuance of passports and other travel documents shall be imposed, and such issuance shall be expedited.
Rodriguez stressed that the existing law has to be updated because since the statute’s enactment 24 years ago, Congress has passed at least three laws affecting the right to travel.
These are the Domestic Adoption Act of 1998, the Citizenship and Reacquisition Act of 2003 and the Philippine Identification System Act, he said.
The consolidated bill “aims to update and reflect the current laws that affect the process of issuing passports,” he said.
Among other provisions, the bill prescribes the minimum requirements for the application of a passport, grounds and process of denial or revocation and appeal, and types of passports, their validity and those who may be issued such travel documents.
Regular passports would be valid for 10 years, except those issued to persons under 18 years of age, which would be good for five years.
The proposed law would allow the issuance of any of three travel papers under certain circumstances like urgent travel of a person who has not been issued a passport yet or who has lost his passport. These are Emergency Travel Document, Travel Document Certificate and Convention Travel Document.
The bill would allow the secretary of foreign affairs to set “reasonable fees” for the processing and issuance of passports or travel documents. Senior citizens would be entitled to a 32-percent discount.
Such fees would constitute a revolving fund the Department of Foreign Affairs may use to improve passport issuance and consular services.
For violations, the proposed law would impose graduated penalties of imprisonment ranging from three years to 15 years, and fines of P15,000 to P2 million.
Illegal withholding of a passport, one of the prohibited acts, is punishable with a prison term of six years and one day to 12 years, plus a fine of P1 million to P2 million.
In addition to such penalties, if the offender is a public officer, he shall be dismissed from the service and be perpetually banned from holding public office.