MANILA, Oct 1 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told senators on Friday that restoring budget cuts will be a big help in fortifying its capacity to serve Filipinos and allow it to respond to the increasing demand for consular services.

Secretary Enrique Manalo said DFA’s proposed PHP20.3-billion budget under the 2023 National Expenditure Program (NEP) is 2.5 percent lower than its 2022 budget.

It includes PHP136.7 million which should address DFA’s backlog in passport processing and the continued operations of Temporary Off-site Passport Services (TOPS).

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a former DFA secretary, vowed to help the agency in fixing the passport backlog that was mainly caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“By the time we’re on the floor, I would appreciate a presentation on how many months do they need, weeks to fix the passport and ‘yung problema sa (the problem with) apostille. We know it can be fixed and we know the limitations,” Cayetano said.’

DFA Assistant Secretary Henry Bensurto Jr. said they were able to streamline the computer system last July to broaden the number of passport appointment slots.

“By September, we were able to open 806,000 appointment slots up to December,” he said, adding that there are still 300,000 slots available as of Thursday night.

“We continue to modify the system and we will not stop. The hope is in the future, we should be able to move to the third-generation passport and by that, move into a contactless passport application,” Bensurto added.

To date, there are 20 TOPS that can each process 500 passport renewal applications per day.

However, Bensurto said the TOPS will stop operating by December if the PHP136 million that DFA requested will not be approved.

Next week, he said they are expecting to open 300,000 more passport appointment slots. (MNS)