DFA poses Filipino showbiz questions to foil ‘impostors’
MANILA, Philippines — “Who is the Superstar’s love team partner?” “Name one of the Megastar’s songs.” “Who is the Star for All Seasons?”
Passport processors in consular offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have lately resorted to asking such trivia questions from local show business to catch foreign nationals illegally applying for Philippine passports, most of them from China.
During a November Senate hearing, the DFA confirmed that foreign nationals could obtain Philippine passports by presenting genuine birth certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and government-issued identification cards.
The DFA said it was “actively engaging (with) law enforcement agencies” to file criminal charges against the foreigners.
Because some of the suspected impostors can speak Filipino, DFA consular office front-liners have devised their own methods to determine whether applicants are Filipino, as their documents claim.
“They have a spurious birth certificate. They can memorize everything there — the name of father, name of mother. So we think outside the box,” Foreign Assistant Secretary Adelio Angelito Cruz of the Office of the Consular Affairs said in an interview.
“If you’re really a Filipino, who was Nora Aunor’s boyfriend? You’re saying you’re 34 years old. Who was Sharon Cuneta’s longtime boyfriend? These are facts that only Filipinos know, right?” he said.
“What are Andrew E.’s songs? What’s your favorite Ariel Rivera song? Anything that we can relate to and we answer without even thinking,” Cruz added.
Pretended to be deaf
Impostors who do not speak Filipino have resorted to gimmicks by pretending to be deaf to avoid being questioned and let their companion transact for them.
In one such case, luckily for the DFA, a consular officer knew sign language and tried to communicate with the impostor, who was found out as a result.
“I was told it’s very, very expensive to acquire genuine PSA documents,” Cruz said.
Foreign nationals posing as Filipinos get genuine PSA birth certificates because they can file for late birth registration at the local civil registrar’s office.
“So there are cracks in the system that we’re hoping to plug,” Cruz went on.
At the main DFA consular office in Parañaque City, at least 58 Chinese nationals have been prevented from acquiring Philippine passports.
Several other consular offices around the country have reported similar attempts.
The recently convened Inter-Agency Committee on Passport Irregularities is investigating around 12 Philippine passport holders who are obviously foreigners, according to Cruz.
The DFA has no estimate of how many foreigners have acquired Philippine passports.
Cruz, who assumed office in late 2023, said the scheme apparently had been going on even “before the pandemic.”
“So I’m very concerned now. I assumed office only last November. When this issue came out, we’re all very concerned. This is an issue of national security, and we take it very seriously,” he said.
Penalties under the law
He said the DFA worked closely with security agencies, like the Bureau of Immigration and the National Bureau of Investigation.
Under Republic Act No. 8239, or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996, the penalty for making false statements in the passport application is imprisonment of between three years and 10 years and a fine of between P15,000 and P60,000.
Cruz said foreign nationals caught applying for Philippine passports had been blacklisted in the DFA database through their biometric information and can no longer apply in any consular office.
But not all have been charged in court.
“Several are still undergoing investigation,” Cruz said.
Last year, the DFA issued 3,179,842 passports. In 2022, the DFA issued 4,172,866 passports. Before the pandemic hit in 2020, the DFA issued 4,095,392 passports in 2019.