By Bernadette E Tamayo/Manila Times
Four senators have joined a call for an investigation into the reported breach of passport data at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Saturday called for an inquiry, after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr admitted on his Twitter account that a privately contracted firm took the entire physical database of all the country’s passport holders, after its contract was not renewed.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, Aquilino Pimentel and Panfilo Lacson yesterday cited the national security implications of the reported breach.
Locsin’s admission was prompted by a complaint from another Twitter user over DFA’s requirement for applicants to submit anew birth or marriage certificates to renew their passports.
The National Privacy Commission has announced that it would conduct its own investigation and summon DFA officials, other concerned agencies, as well as the passport contractor. Drilon said the Department of Justice, Commission on Audit, and the National Privacy Commission must conduct the investigation.
“It should be investigated. There is a basis for investigation,” said Drilon in a radio interview.
Drilon noted that state-owned APO Production Unit Inc held the contract, but supposedly decided to tap another firm to print the passports.
“Why was it that APO was able to subcontract? It was reported that there is a prohibition in the MoA (memorandum of agreement) to sub-contract,” Drilon said.
Aquino, in a chance interview at the Quezon City Circle, said: “I hope the DFA can take the lead in cleaning their ranks. The Senate can also investigate that.”“It might lead to a lot of bad things,” he said.
Pimentel said in a text message.: “The DFA must explain. Why did it happen? I am filing a resolution to find out more.”
“We need to know what other data-gathering government agencies have entered into such a contract which is disadvantageous to the government and the people,” he added.
Pimentel added, “Why is it that the DFA does not have a copy of the data (of the passport holders). What are the terms of the contract with the passport provider?”
Lacson said it was difficult to understand why government agencies like the Land Transportation Office and the DFA would enter into contracts with private entities “without making sure that the terms and conditions will protect the national security interest of our country and its people.”
“An in-depth investigation should immediately be conducted and those responsible must be made to face and suffer the consequences,” Lacson said.
“Those databases in the hands of private contractors will definitely compromise vital information of individuals who have dealt with those agencies, and the number runs into millions of people,” added Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order.
Hontiveros on Saturday said the data breach “indicates a serious national security risk, and is evidence of the Duterte government’s gross incompetence in protecting the people’s private data.”
“Exactly what data were lost? When, how and under whose watch did this happen? Who exactly is the responsible firm? And why aren’t they being sued for running away with such vital information?” she asked.
“The public needs to be reassured that the data will be retrieved completely and with the highest sense of urgency and priority,” Hontiveros said.
Senator Gregorio Honasan, an administration ally, said: “Everything from hereon is a function of proactive internal administration control and security measures, legal action.”
“I agree with the SFA (Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr) that the immediate objective is to prevent it from happening again,” said Honasan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence and National Security.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo yesterday echoed the call of lawmakers to file criminal charges against the foreign company that ran off with personal data of passport holders.
“This is horrible and frightening. This means that the contractor tasked to make the passport left with the whole data system and it has access to all of our information,” she said in her weekly radio show.
“A case should be filed against the firm because they do not own that data,” Robredo added.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the passport data breach could be considered a “very grave security concern,” while National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr downplayed the issue.“If true, then it is a very grave security concern and quite alarming,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Lorenzana noted that the primary information of passport holders, including the full name, date and place of birth, and other information “could be used illegally.”
“We will get in touch with the DFA to find out the details of this issue and how to mitigate its ill effect,” the defence chief noted.
Esperon said there had been no indications of Philippine passport data being disseminated on the Internet.
“Don’t speculate yet because there has been no known leak of data (yet),” he told reporters in a separate message.
Some Twitter users hit Locsin for blaming “the yellow crowd” for the issues surrounding the loss of passport data.
In a tweet on Saturday morning, Locsin said that the passport mess started during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), now speaker of the House, and worsened during the Aquino 3rd (PNoy) Administration.
“The problem started under GMA’s DFA and got worse under PNoy’s DFA,” he tweeted.
“It will be solved by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s (PRRD) DFA under Locsin. The yellow crowd who perpetrated the passport fraud are in a panic because we are gonna autopsy their crooked deal. Period.”
His tweet did not sit well with some netizens.
“There you go again blaming others except the current administration,” tweeted @BebieShan.“You’ve been in for almost three years.
You had all the chances to improve it.”
Locsin served as the Philippines’ permanent representative to the United Nations before being named as secretary of foreign affairs, replacing Alan Peter Cayetano.
“I have my passport since time immemorial…under PNoy term I had renewed twice (2010 and 2015) less than an hour I was finished then I had them delivered to my office three days after with no hassle,” tweeted Alecks Puerta yesterday. “Don’t keep accusing and just solve the issue, don’t just say #idontknow).”
“Last time I checked, it’s 2019. This admin has been in ace for almost three years now, tweeted @allanray. If this admin haven’t fixed what crookedness existed in the first two years when they arrived, you really expect us to play the blame game by this point?”
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