Philippine Embassy Closures Causing Pinoys Real Problems
2 Nov 2012
Updated 5 Nov with video interview over closures
Over 35,000 Philippine passport holders with no effective diplomatic representation after DFA blunders
One Filipina's Irish residency visa, due to run out very shortly, will have to spend hundreds of Euros on travel to London if a British visa can be obtained
The Philippine embassy and consulate closures that took place earlier this year are causing real problems to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW's) and other Filipinos living abroad.
The confident pronouncements from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila of no disruption to services have not been borne out by experience.
The DFA stated there would be "...minimal effects on its services to areas affected by the planned closure of ten Embassies..." in a press release dated 7th March 2012. If they meant that there would be no Filipinos going to the closed embassies and consulates they were 100% correct; if however they meant there would be no disruption to Philippine passport holders they were 100% wrong. There have been several problems communicated to Balita Pinoy, and in most cases it has been very costly and traumatic to individuals hoping to renew their Philippine passports. (See video interview below)
Two examples of passports being extended because of the DFA failure two years ago in the implementation of the machine readable passports; these passports now must be renewed as they cannot be extended further and passport holders must attend a facility where the machines are available. With the closure of many embassies and consulates, this is a serious problem for Filipino passport holders where there is now no embassy or consulate in their country of residence
The DFA also stated that nearby Embassies or Consulates will take on the jurisdiction and functions of the said missions, as well as more consular missions in the area and the appointment of honorary consuls who will take on the functions of the affected Embassy or Consulate.
This is totally laughable in the extreme. A quick check has shown that there has not been one honorary consul appointed in countries where the relevant embassy or consulate has been closed down.
One Pinay's passport with her Irish residency visa due to run out, no embassy in Ireland and no Honorary Consul in place means a trek to London, very inconvenient, very expensive, very annoyed Pinoys
Philippine Embassies closed down were in Koror, Palau; Caracas, Venezuela; Dublin, Ireland; Stockholm, Sweden; Havana, Cuba; Bucharest, Romania; and Helsinki, Finland, as well as the Consulates General in Barcelona, Spain, Frankfurt, Germany, and Saipan.
The embassies closed down in Caracas, Havana, and Bucharest are in fact of minimal importance in relation to the others on the list. There are very few Filipinos living and working there, and indeed trade between those countries, Venezuela, Cuba and Romania and the Philippines is not high. That is not to say the effects to Filipinos in those countries is of no importance; they will still have no consular services and no effective diplomatic protection which should be afforded to Philippine citizens.
When looking at the Pacific islands of Palau and Saipan, the problems get even worse. On both islands there are OFW's who are now effectively abandoned.
In the case of Palau, the official line is that Filipinos there will be covered from, wait for it, Manila. Palau's President Johnson Toribiong made an impassioned plea for the embassy to be kept open to no avail.
Saipan is a similar problem, a lot of OFW's now with no effective representation since the closure of the Consulate General's office which is now left being handled from Guam, 219 kms away. That's a long row in a boat.
The map of northern Europe above shows the distances, and more importantly, borders that must be crossed for Filipnos to attend embassies to renew their passports
It is when the major closures in Europe are looked at in detail that the problem is exposed as much worse.
Ireland, Finland and Sweden all had embassies closed down with, officially, neighboring embassies taking up the slack, and with Honorary Consuls being in place.
Bad luck for any Filipinos working for Father Christmas in his grotto in Lapland's Rovaniemi in northern Finland. To get to Oslo, the responsible Philippine embassy, it is 1,500 kms in distance away. Any Pinoys unfortunate enough to live in the northernmost Finnish town of Utsojki, have a journey of 1.800 kms
In the case of the Irish and Scandinavian missions, this has not happened, with Filipinos in these countries in severe difficulty especially where renewal of passports is concerned. In some cases their [the Filipinos & OFW's] immigration status could be at risk. This is especially true of those who had their passports extended because of the failures of the original implementation of the machine readable passports by the DFA two years ago.
Pinoys in Ireland have the problem in that the embassy in London has taken over responsibility, but there is nobody on the ground in the Republic of Ireland, nor is there an Honorary Consul in place. Added to which is that visas are needed to get to London by Philippine passport holders, which also entails a flight and a stay of at least a day in London.
A same-day return flight Dublin to London will cost between £200-£280GBP (Euro 250-350).
The situation in Sweden and Finland is probably even worse in that the distances are far greater than that of Dublin (or other parts of Ireland) to London. The only good point is that Filipinos in either county, and indeed Iceland and Denmark, who are legally resident and hold the valid residency permit, are able to travel visa free because of the Schengen Area Rules. In the case of Iceland, there is at least an Honorary Consul who has been in place for several years.
Although the indigenous populations of Sweden and Finland are low (less than 10 million), the countries are large. These two and Norway are all larger than PHL in land mass, and even more crucially, are very long. So for example a Pinoy in Lapland in either northern Sweden or Finland wishing to travel to Oslo, the only remaining embassy open in Scandinavia, that is a considerable journey. Air fares in Scandinavia are not cheap, added to which if a stay of more than one day is required in Oslo, that will do some damage to a Pinoy's pocketbook. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
As with Ireland, there is no Honorary Consul in place in either Finland or Sweden.
The Spanish and German situation is not as critical as the ones described above. There are at least embassies still in place, as well as consulates around the country. The main problem is one of inconvenience as both countries are large. Travel to another facility is not a short bus or taxi journey away.
The closure of embassies and consulates has been very badly handled by the DFA in Manila.
While it is understood that the closures were brought about by budgetary constraints, out of the savings made should have been financial provision both for increased outreach programs by the newly appointed embassies taking over responsibility, and more importantly Honorary Consuls should have been in place prior to the closures.
The DFA cannot say they were unaware of what is happening in respect of the HC's, they ordered the closures and had plenty of time to appoint HC's.
The effective abandonment of 35,000+ Pilippine citizens by the DFA is a shameful one and should be rectified at the earliest opportunity.
In an interview broadcast in early March 2012, DFA Usec. Rafael Seguis and Migrante Chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado were quizzed over the effects of the closures. In the interview, Mr Segius stated among other things that the DFA were processing at that time the appointment of Honorary Consuls. That was 8 months ago, to date none have been announced.