House body okays PH map, ecozone, Sabah on passports

THE House committee on foreign affairs on Thursday approved a substitute bill requiring the printing of the country’s map, including its 200-mile exclusive economic zone and Sabah, on its passports.

The committee chaired by Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Ann Hofer also approved the to granting millions of senior citizens a 32-percent passport discount.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, author of the House Bill (HB) 6399 which has been consolidated into the substitute bill that would amend the Passport Law, in moving for the printing of the country’s map on the travel document maintained that it  “aims to emphasize and insist on our victory on the West Philippine Sea over China in the International Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, and our legal and historical rights over Sabah.”

“The inclusion of the map on our travel document is a strong statement that we are asserting our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and our EEZ,” he said.

As for the 32-percent passport discount, Rodriguez said it would apply not only on the cost of the passport but on processing fees as well.

“By law, senior citizens at present get a price reduction of 20 percent discount plus 12-percent value added tax exemption on medicines,” he said.

He added that another amendment to the Passport Law the committee approved is the online application by seniors for passport issuance and renewal.

“This will do away with personal appearance by seniors in Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) consular offices,” Rodriguez stressed.

He said the bill also provides for an emergency travel document to be issued to any Filipino citizen with urgent travel but who has lost his or her passport or whose passport has expired.

It likewise criminalizes the illegal withholding of passports by anyone specially aliens from their holders or owners, he said.

The amendatory measure imposes stiffer penalties on violators. If the offender is an alien, he would be deported and blacklisted after service of sentence.

Rodriguez said he, Congresswoman Sandra Eriguel and his colleagues pursued the proposed amendments “to honor the late Rep. Francisco ‘Jun’ Datol of the Senior Citizens Party who recently died.”

“He was vice chairman of the committee and was author of a bill to give a lifetime validity of passports issued to senior citizens,” he said.

Rodriguez also urged the DFA to fast track the third generation E-passport program “to modernize our passports to be at par with the highest international standards.”