Just Cause

A distressing piece of news, so early in the brand new year, that yet more corruption of our sovereignty and a bastardization of our institutions is happening. As the title states — our Philippine passports are reportedly being sold at P300,000 each and sometimes bought for P500,000.

What’s with the Philippine passport? For a country with poor visa access to other countries and with users associated with overseas labor, why bother spending half a million pesos for it?

A passport is primary evidence of citizenship. By holding Philippine passports, foreigners are now vested with all the rights (and obligations) of citizens. Given that our Constitution prohibits the ownership of land by foreign nationals, aliens who are issued Philippine passports can legally buy and sell property without any restrictions.

Breaching the condominium ownership limit of 40% for foreigners is one immediate effect. Industries and businesses that are closed to foreigners or have restrictions on their percentage ownership are made open to these “Filipinos.”

In the provisions of government services, these “Filipinos” enjoy the same privileges as any other Filipino. Their children will be entitled to Philippine citizenship.

While we Filipinos are generally welcoming to foreigners and we even grant citizenship to deserving ones who have served our communities, it is entirely different when a foreigner buys a passport this way. There is no process to determine if indeed such foreigners merit the benefits of citizenship and the protection of the State, no matter how weak, without the prerequisite contribution or responsibility.

At present, a qualified foreigner may apply administratively or judicially to acquire Philippine citizenship. It is a tedious but necessary procedure. Without this safeguard, citizenship is for sale like any other product or service — when the demand for it is met by the supply at the price point.

The related problem is that the seller of the passports is invariably an agent of the State. The Department of Foreign Affairs issues passports in the name of the Republic to its citizens. It is not to be granted to aliens unless decreed. It is straight-up corruption and, at worst, treason to be selling out our national identity. Our witty and hardworking Secretary of Foreign Affairs can quickly see the ramifications.

Our institution is then corrupted. Instead of being the enabler for Filipinos to be recognized and respected globally, other countries will now have to doubly scrutinize holders of Philippine passports. As it is, it is not fun to travel with our brownish maroon passports.

It is the worst kind of foreigners who will resort to this scheme — they are moneyed, in a rush, and violate the law with impunity in cahoots with locals with no sense of morals. They are a predictable sort, these aliens — we know who they are. These are the aliens that our laws label as “undesirable” and “deportable” after service of prison terms.

How do we approach this issue? First is to find out the gravity of the problem. There must be a recognition or acknowledgement that these arrangements are taking place. An audit of the passports issued within the last five years from 2015 need to be made with a composite task force from the offices of the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Interior and Local Government.

It will not be a difficult task. What is the test of citizenship? Or, how can one tell one is a Filipino? A quick five minute interview with questions in the vernacular, on Filipino customs and traditions, on beauty contestants will do the trick and ferret out the truth.

Does it require a congressional investigation? Perhaps, but the objective ought to be the same — the preservation of our national honor and dignity, the protection of our institutions and compliance with the rule of law, and the punishment of the guilty and the greedy.

On a different note, perhaps the country should adhere to a stricter reciprocity agreement. As of today, a Filipino is made to jump through a ring of fire, to wait 45 days while his passport is held by the Korean Embassy for a visa to be issued or denied. To think the Koreans are the number one visitors — visa free of course — to the Philippines, besting Americans and Chinese for the past many years running. Surely, one week is more than enough for an ally with a long history of friendship.

At the very least, our Foreign Affairs department should act to streamline and lessen the burden for Filipinos. This is a small step to demonstrate that we are protecting our overseas workers from being abused or killed. It is also small step to make passport issuance faster, easier, and cheaper for Filipinos instead of selling passports to undesirable aliens.