Monday, July 12, 2010


An apparent spat with one of the Philippine’s honorary consuls cast a pall over an otherwise auspicious start for the resurrected Philippine Chancery in Washington DC.

Droves of Filipinos from as far away as Florida, Mississippi and the Carolinas were the first customers of the new consular offices on the ground floor of the historic edifice that served as the symbolic Philippine capital during World War II, and threatened with demolition after a fire struck in 2008 and it was labeled an eyesore and safety hazard along DC’s pricey “Embassy Row”.

It housed the Philippine Embassy until the late 90s when then President Fidel Ramos ordered the construction of the new embassy building just across the street.

From here consular officials started receiving and processing applications for the new electronic and machine-readable passports (ePassport and MRPs) – and apparently triggered a misunderstanding with an honorary consul in Florida.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles consulates-general launched the ePassport project last May; Washington DC started last June 21, and those in New York and Chicago on July 1.

Angelo Macatangay is the Philippine honorary consul in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

There are three honorary consuls in the US – in Atlanta, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan; and Ft. Lauderdale, explained Washington DC Consul General Domingo “Ding” Nolasco.

Macatangay was allowed to accept passport applications for elderly Filipinos in Ft. Lauderdale, to spare them the rigors of having to travel to DC. But according to Nolasco, he was soon reaching out to Pinoys outside the city.

Macatangay notorized the documents and mailed the forms to DC. He allegedly charged $20 for photos to be used in the old manual passports.

With the advent of ePassport, Ambassador Willy Gaa, sent out a memorandum to all consular posts, including the one in Ft. Lauderdale, to stop accepting papers for the old manual passports but Macatangay was apparently slow to comply.

The DC consulate had to return about a hundred applications for the old passports from Ft. Lauderdale.

This triggered a howl of protest from Florida residents, who were told they now had to travel to Washington DC without apparently being told why.

Nolasco has taken the brunt, to the extent of rumors spreading he is involved in labor recruitment activities, which for a consular official, tantamount to corruption.

“The allegations are false and malicious,” he stressed, blaming Macatangay for the “demolition job”.

“I and the Embassy’s consular staff are just following directives from Manila to implement the electronic passport project in the US that require applicants to appear personally at the Embassy or regular consulates so we can take their photo image and biometrics through the data capture machines provided us by the DFA,” he explained.

Nolasco said there are an average five “capturing machines” in each of the consulates-general (San Francisco has the most number with 8). The honorary consulates have none.

A server sends the encrypted “captured data” directly to Manila.

Unlike the old manual passports that can be prepared in the consulates-general, the ePassport can only be produced by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) printing facility in Quezon City. It takes about three weeks for the applicant to get his ePassport.

Nolasco said the repair of the Philippine Chancery was very timely.

He explained implementing the ePassport and MRP is an international commitment of the Philippines. “We have no choice so the least we can do is ensure their visit to the consulate is a little more comfortable,” he averred.

The new consular section is relatively more spacious than the old one, and at least had a roof because the queue usually stretched to the open ground outside the old consular office which at the height of summer or the dead of winter, was not an especially welcome prospect.

And for out-of-towners, being inside the Chancery would be so typically Washington DC, where almost every other building has a rich reminder of the past.

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