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Garciís Faking Passport

(Article published in the Mar 29, 2006 issue of Manila Standard Today)

The latest episode in the "Hello Garci" telenovela, which could very well be entitled "Garciís faking passport," promises to be a sure blockbuster, a true specie of that modern genre of public shows called infotainment.

Curtain raiser was the Bangko Sentral assessment that Passport No. JJ243816 which former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garciliano submitted to the five House Committees that investigated the alleged cheating by still President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Mindanao during the 2004 elections "does not conform to standard."

The BSP disclosure starts with hard rock, or rather rock hard, information on how not fake a passport. Six items in the booklet submitted by Garci as his passport were not in conformity to standard: The purported Passport No. JJ243816 was smaller by 2 millimeters, plus more or less 0.75; paper and print on inside front and back covers were not standard; there was an additional stitch along the seam; cuts and joints along the seams on Pages 1 to 32 should not have been there; and Page 32 contained the words "Bisa-Visa"which should not have been there and had print that was off-quality. All that is good solid information on how not to fake your passport.

After receiving, solid information, we get thorough entertainment. First we are treated by Cavite Representative Gilbert Remulla to an exhibition of a leap of logic. He immediately jumps to the conclusion that the BSP findings prove that there was, as he had claimed, a conspiracy to cover up the alleged election fraud in 2004. Makati Representative Teddy Boy Locsin aborts his take-off. It is possible, he says, that Garci was doing a solo flight.


The solo flight theme, or more precisely, the no-government involvement tune, is a pick up from Deputy Governor Armando L. Suratos. In his transmittal letter, Atty. Suratos stressed that "the BSP as manufacturer of passport booklets delivers the blank passport booklets to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The filling in of the applicantís personal data on the passport and issuance of the passport are functions of the DFA." Coupled with the statement of DFA Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin that the Passport No. JJ2438116 which the DFA issued to Garci, which is not necessarily the same as the one submitted by Garci to the House, was genuine, the scene transforms itself into an advance re-enactment of the Cenaculo showing two Pontius Pilates rightly, I must say, washing their hands and distancing themselves from whatever it was that Garci submitted to the Congressmen.

As a result, the fire power of Senator Panfilo Lacson and Congressmen Alan Peter Cayetano, Teofisto Guingona III and Joel Villanueva is trained on poor Garci. But, since Senator Lacson telegraphed his move (and, to the amusement of BSP personnel commended Atty. Suratos for acting in a speedy manner), Garci, in anticipation of their criminal charges filed last Friday, declared that he cannot be expected to recognize a fake passport when he sees one. He does not even know, he says and believably, how a passport is made. Of course, he could not speak for his handlers, if any.

The action he suits to the word. Like that unidentified young man who fled from the Romans arresting the Christ at Gethsemane, he runs away in the raw, saying, "not me, not me."

The tableau, so far, would have been simply comic if it were not also tragic. Unfortunately, the longer this issue of Garciís faking passport remains unresolved, like the issue of who the Comelec official was that still President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sorry to have talked to as the ballots were being canvassed in 2004, the more we put at risk everybody else, particularly our overseas workers.

A passport is a serious, almost sacred, document. A Philippine passport is defined under Section 3(d) of the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 (R.A. No. 8239 as "a document issued by the Philippine government to its citizens and requesting other governments to allow its citizens to pass safely and freely, and in case of need to give him/her all lawful aid and protection." It is thus not just an Identification Card indicating a Filipinoís citizenship. It is, in addition, a plea to other governments to respect the Filipinoís human right to travel safely and freely and a request that, when needed, the Filipino receive from said other governments lawful help and protection.

For this reason, its genuineness ought to be safeguarded as zealously as, if not more so than, the genuineness of the countryís bills and coins. It is thus not a mere accident that the agency is entrusted to print our money is also the office that prints our passports.

The relentless coverage by media of the developments relating to Garciís faking passport could not but cause the unwanted result of debasing the currency of the Philippine passport. Already, though not yet as notorious as Thailand where the police over the last two years confiscated more than 1,400 passports, the Philippines is not too far behind. From January to May of this year, the Bureau of Immigration claims to have forwarded 130 fraudulent Philippine passports to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Before we surpass Thailand, it is important that we think of enlisting the help of technology to secure the most important of our traveling paraphernalia. At the moment, the preferred solution against forgery in several jurisdictions is the use of RFID, short for "Radio Frequency Identification", on passports. By now, actual users of RFID on passports are expected to include the United States, France, Norway, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Our neighbor Malaysia has been issuing passports with RFID since 2000.

I learned of RFID from a client, Tricon Consulting GmbH & Co KG, an Austrian company and member of the Trierenberg Group with offices at Traun near Linz, Austria and DŁren, Germany. It has about 160 employees working exclusively in the RFID field.

RFID works simply and cheaply. It is an automatic identification system that stores data, such as the exact replica of the page of the passport that bears the important information of the holder, on a transponder called a "tag." A tag is a silicon chip that has a minute antenna that receives radio frequency queries from a transceiver. It is usually passive and require no power source.

The tag is imbedded on the passport. When the holder passes through immigration, the officer puts the passport within the range of the transceiver, which can be a stand-alone desktop or a handheld unit. The transceiver reads the tag and displays the information written into the chip.

The immigration officer then compares the hard copy, i.e. the passport presented by the visitor, with what is displayed in his monitor. The discrepancies are thus discovered.

The advantages are numerous. Among many are: Any alteration in the passport is readily spotted. Any kind of print or font or handwriting can be authenticated. The software and the hardware are easily integrated into even a rudimentary information technology infrastructure in a port of entry or egress. The data is stored in passport itself thereby bypassing the need to maintain a separate and costly, not to mention hard to access, data base. It is cost efficient and require very short implementation time.

The importance of making sure that a Philippine Passport is not doubted cannot be over-stressed. As we laugh and cry with the emotional highs and lows of the Garciís faking passport serio-comic drama, we ought not forget that, beyond, Garci, is the higher interest of giving peace of mind to our countrymen overseas. They will not find the doubts cast on their passports funny at all.