(Photo courtesy of DFA)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is set to open 10 more temporary offsite passport services (TOPS) centers nationwide before the end of 2021, a ranking official said Friday.

"We're thinking of opening three in the National Capital Region -- one in Manila, one in Novaliches and one in Fairview. What we want for the next few TOPS to be opened is that they are located outside NCR to give other applicants the chance to renew their passports nearby," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Senen Mangalile told reporters in a virtual presser.

Apart from the three NCR sites, TOPS venues will also open soon in Cebu, Davao City, Iloilo, Pangasinan, Lipa in Batangas, and San Pedro in Laguna.

"So, we expect to see about 17 operating before the end of the year at hopefully mabigyan kami ng budget ng kongreso para maipagpatuloy ang programang ito (hopefully the Congress could provide us the budget to continue this program)," Mangalile said.

A maximum of 500 slots per TOPS site will be allocated, translating to at least 5,000 daily.

Mangalile admitted that all slots in consular offices and the seven existing sites have been filled as of this posting, but he assured that the DFA would open up more in the following months.

"Maraming nagsasabi na wala na tayong passport appointments hanggang 2022, hindi po totoo 'yon hindi pa lang natin binubuksan 'yung slots for October, November at December (It's not true that there are no longer appointment slots for 2022, we just have not opened up yet the slots for October, November, and December)," he said.

He said the slots would be opened in a staggered manner while the DFA fixes its system to prevent so-called "professional appointment setters" from locking and hogging the slots.

The DFA is also working to ease the long lines at its Aseana office where most applicants have been transferred after some consular offices in Metro Manila were hit by a series of Covid-19 outbreaks.

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At present, only its office in SM Manila is temporarily closed for disinfection, Mangalile said.

Among others, the DFA is addressing issues with over 17,000 applications that need corrections after applicants made errors in filling up their forms online.

"We are correcting forms submitted towards the end of July until the first week of August, this may last maybe until the middle part of October as one of those correcting these errors tested positive for Covid so the whole team is considered as close contact. We are now employing new personnel to do this," Mangalile said.

The pandemic has forced the DFA to work at a limited capacity, severely affecting the country's consular operations.

Last year, the agency was only able to release around 1.7 million passports, a significant drop from the more than four million recorded in 2019. (PNA)