Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tampering with passports can land you in jail, Filipinos warned

Dubai: Philippine Consulate officials on Tuesday warned Filipinos against resorting to “fixers” and tampering with their passports by getting fake passport extensions — an act that could land them in jail.

The Philippine consulate stopped extending the validity of passports for the purpose of residency visa stamping and travel purposes this January. The embassy followed suit in February. Exemptions were given, however, to passport holders with emergencies such as death in the family, medical or legal emergency.

Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said two cases of passport tampering had been reported to his office over the past two weeks.

In both cases, the passports had been stamped with an extension of one year with a “signature” of a consul currently working at the consulate.

“We’re no longer extending passports unless in emergency cases. This stamp is fake,” Cortes told the media.

“His [passport holder] employer called us and asked us if we were still extending passports and I said no,” Cortes said, adding the employer became suspicious and sent him the passport for evaluation.

Consul Ferdinand Flores, whose signature appears on the fake stamp, confirmed that the signature was forged. Upon close scrutiny, the signature is actually part of the stamp itself and was not manually signed on the passport page.

“They used a real person but have the wrong signature,” Flores said.

Deputy Consul-General Giovanni Palec said extending passports for visa purposes no longer makes sense because passports are now processed and delivered in a matter of two to three weeks. Resorting to tampering will only endanger the passport holder.

“The warning is, once you have a false stamp, it nullifies the whole passport. [The passport holder] is in violation of the Philippine Passport Law. That puts him at more risk, legally speaking,” Palec said.

In the UAE, a person who forges a travel document such as a passport and uses it could face between one month and five years in jail, depending on the judge’s decision, according to the UAE Penal Code.

Cortes said the spouse of the passport holder paid Dh700 to a “fixer” outside the consulate for the service.

In reality, if a person needs to extend his passport, he only needs to pay Dh80 for the normal service, and Dh120 for an expedited one. Renewing passports cost Dh240.

Cortes said they will refer the matter to the police for investigation. Consul officials will also give specimen signatures to the immigration if necessary.

Cortes urged Filipinos to only deal with consulate officials wearing proper identification inside the consulate. He also advised them to apply for passport renewal ahead of time, even a year before their passport expires, to avoid any inconvenience.


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