Our passport is one of the best. It has garnered an award for best design. It is an e-Passport recognized by almost all countries with e-Passport capabilities. It has never been compromised.

Philippine government offices process a huge amount of documents, such as certificates, permits, and licenses, every day. We see these all the time, but have we ever stopped to consider where these forms come from? Well, these are produced by three recognized government printers (RGP) that are mandated by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9970 or the General Appropriations Act of 2010, and by subsequent general appropriation laws, to undertake the printing of accountable forms and sensitive high quality or high volume documents of the government. One of these RGPs is the APO Production Unit, Inc., or simply APO. It is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) as defined under R.A. No. 10149 or the GOCC Governance Act of 2011. With two branches located in Manila and Batangas, APO is tasked by the government to print accountable forms and high-security, high-volume documents.

THE INSTALLATION PROCEDURES
The history of APO dates all the way back to 1961. The Asian Productivity Organization (APO) was formulated in Tokyo, Japan by eight Asia and Pacific region governments, including the Philippines, to promote economic development. The APO Productivity Organization Information Unit established in 1967 was replaced by the Manila-based APO Production Unit on June 30, 1971. APO Production Unit then became the official printer of the APO member countries.

In 1974, however, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Letter of Instruction (LOI) 197, declaring APO Production Unit as a “self-sustaining operation” under the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), thereby allowing it to solicit and accept printing jobs from government agencies and GOCCs. APO Production Unit was incorporated as a non-stock, non-profit corporation with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Over the years, APO had been placed under many different agencies. In 1996, APO’s management was transferred under the Asset Privatization Trust. It was subsequently transferred to the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) in 2000, to the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) in 2004, back to the OPS in 2006, and volleyed back to the PIA in 2010. Finally, Executive Order No. 4 was issued on July 30, 2010, reverting the control and supervision of APO to the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), previously known as the OPS. Today, APO remains as one of the three RGPs alongside the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the National Printing Office (NPO).

PERIOD OF TROUBLESHOOTING
As a GOCC, members of the Board of Trustees are appointed by the President of the Philippines. Their positions are coterminous with the appointing authority. Michael J. Dalumpines currently sits as the Chairman and CEO of APO, appointed in 2016 by President Rodrigo Duterte. The present Board of Trustees consists of Philip S. Dionisio, who is also the president; Alvin R. Reyes, the general manager (GM); and Joecel F. Obenza, the executive vice-president (EVP). Dalumpines recalls, “I remember, when I was appointed, the President told me, ‘Ayusin mo, may mga problema diyan.’ (Fix the existing problems there.) It was a marching order and I said ‘yes, I’ll do it.’”

Indeed, saying there was a problem was an understatement. APO found itself on the verge of closing down in 2010 when it experienced a shortage in operating funds. As a self-sustaining GOCC, APO receives no budget allocation from the government. It relies solely on job orders obtained from government agencies and local government units (LGUs). At the time, the cash flow was low, the payables were high, labor costs were immense, and the equipment was outdated.

The APO Board under the past administration managed to address some pressing issues to counter the near-bankrupt state of APO. They were able to save APO’s finances through short-term bank loans. Slowly, APO was able to pay off long-standing debts. Gradually, they regained the trust and confidence of many government agencies, particularly the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Social Security System (SSS), and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

COMMENTING INITIALIZATION
After having successfully overcome their struggles and refuelled with renewed vigor, APO was able to obtain more printings jobs, especially those with high-security and high-volume requirements. Pursuant to R.A. No. 10351 or the Sin Tax Law passed in December 2012, the BIR assumed control and supervision of the production and issuance of excise stamps on tobacco products, previously done by tobacco companies. With APO tapped as the sole and recognized printer of tax stamps, this ensured the absence of forgeries thereby assuring the BIR of efficient collection of sin taxes.

In 2014, the DFA sought to improve the production and personalization of the passports, after experiencing delays in passport delivery. APO stepped up to the task of producing the new e-Passport with upgraded and increased security features. By July 2014, APO expanded its operations to a three-hectare security printing facility in LiMa Technology Center (LTC) located between Lipa City and Malvar (LiMa), Batangas. The Quezon City plant continued to print accountable forms.

From the start, Dalumpines sought to improve the operations of APO as it strives to be the best. Their existing printing job on the e-Passport could still be perfected. Through the committed efforts and coordination between APO and the DFA, the delivery and printing of the Philippine passports was improved. APO can now print as many as 25,000 passports a day, exceeding the expectations of the DFA. “We are also preparing; in the eventuality the demand increases, we can handle it owing to the capabilities of our machines and equipment. It is not a problem for us. If we have to bring in more machines, we can do so,” Dalumpines states.

On top of the improvements and existing projects, APO sought out more partnerships finding ways to serve the government even more. Dalumpines observes, “When I assumed office, we already had existing customers but it was not enough. We live on our own as a self-sustaining company. If we cannot sell our products—our main source of income—we will have to close shop.” Fortunately, the newly appointed Chairman-CEO was experienced in business management, having previously worked in recruitment and product distribution. Using his expertise in the field of sales, Dalumpines doubled APO’s efforts in the sales and marketing departments. “APO Production Unit is a government printer whose end goal is to sell our products. It remains a sales organization, catering to government agencies,” he says.

APO GM Alvin R. Reyes says, “We were fortunate enough because when we came in, APO already had the tax stamps and the passports. On our part, we are looking to the future instead, to leave a legacy so we are able to give some service to the country.”

LAUNCHING THE PROGRAM
APO continues to improve its service to the government and the public by implementing tighter security measures in their operations both in the Quezon City and LiMa plants.

“Last year was the first time we breached the P4 billion-mark in terms of sales, a first in APO’s entire history,” Dalumpines reports. “To go from a state of near bankruptcy in 2010 to reaching a record-breaking P4 billion in sales by 2017 is no simple feat. We really worked hard for that, which we achieved through our sales,” he adds. APO continues to receive more orders from government agencies and LGUs, further expanding its clientele. Utilizing sales and marketing techniques, APO writes letters to prospective clients and submits proposals depending on the client’s requirements.

On top of the record-breaking sales in 2017, APO was able to remit P10 million to the national treasury through the Department of Finance on August 2018. Its total remittances so far for the current year has reached P22 million. “If you don’t have the profit, it means you have a very low grade. If you do not have any contributions to the government, why are you still there? That is why APO almost closed shop because we were unable to remit anything to the government,” Dalumpines says. The role of GOCCs is to obtain revenue for the government, therefore 50% of APO’s net income each year is remitted to the national treasury “You think of things to keep your company afloat and your head above water. It is not the problem of the government to help you,” the APO Chairman-CEO adds. “You are given the mandate, the resources; all the government agencies are your prospective clients, but the government does not expect you to run to them, asking for a favor. You really have to stand on your own.”

This challenge APO is able to overcome because each RGP has their area of specialization. “APO’s competitive edge among RGPs is really in the high-security, high-volume printing,” Dalumpines says. APO President, Dionisio, further explains that the BSP handles all monetary printing. The NPO, meanwhile, covers the non-securitized printing such as election ballots. “Government agencies can choose from among the three RGPs, depending on their printing requirements. As it stands, the BSP has its own existing contracts, so do the NPO and APO,” says Executive VP Obenza. Among the three RGPs, it is only APO that specializes in securitized documents, ensuring the security and safety of data. “We also have capabilities in IT because printing nowadays is not only limited to the physical identification.

It all started with e-Passport through data capturing, which means taking your biometrics. It is now part and parcel of printing today,” Dionisio explains. “We take your biometrics—facial, iris, and fingerprints. Then, we take your credentials and merge that so it becomes your identity. That becomes the passport, which can also become the national ID. So, you are your credential,” GM Reyes further explains. Not only are the documents safe and secure, they are also personalized to each individual.

“Our passport is one of the best. It has garnered an award for best design in 2016, from Reconnaissance, organizer of High Security Printing Asia. It is an e-Passport recognized by almost all countries with e-Passport capabilities,” Reyes says. “It has never been compromised.” APO has been printing the Philippine passport for the past four years. The visual design is striking and eye-catching, featuring highlights of our Philippine history and culture. Compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, APO designs the high-tech security features in coordination with the DFA, particularly the overt and covert designs to ensure security. This is to guard against forgeries and tampering as it is revenue owed to the government. Cases of forgery are immediately discovered because of the security features. If the visual or covert features are absent, officials instantly know that it is a fake. “The tax stamps are worth P35 and APO prints five billion of them. That is how much we are able to help the national government,” Reyes continues. “APO is able to earn simply from the printing cost, which is low despite the high security features. We do not charge the public so much, just enough for the production cost.”

APO also claims that the Philippine e-Passport is one of the least expensive in the world. Other countries, like Hong Kong and Germany, have higher production costs and pricier passports. “But the technology is the same as ours. Our technology is ICAO-compliant, based on international standards. Most passports all over the world have the same security features but ours is known to be cheaper,” APO President Dionisio says. “It is a public service so APO cannot charge higher premiums. It is not a commercial product where you can place higher mark-ups to earn more,” GM Reyes adds.

Now, APO is focusing on its bid for the national ID. After President Duterte signed the Philippine System Identification Act into law, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) was designated as the lead agency mandated to develop a single official identification card for all citizens and foreign residents. “The national ID will be bigger than the e-Passport. We are banking on our status as an RGP,” GM Reyes says. “We are confident in our track record, showing APO as the best RGP to handle highly sensitive information. APO is therefore in the best position to undertake the national ID.”

APO envisions being an integral and essential component in the infrastructure providing world-class printing solutions to the national government and its agencies. “We are still heading in that direction, doing plenty of legwork to expand our business,” Dalumpines says. APO has opened a branch in Davao to handle all the government agencies in Mindanao with the hope of bringing in more sales from the region. APO also further plans to open another branch in the Visayas. “Rather than wait for them to send their requirements, we have decided to go to them, to talk to the LGUs personally,” the CEO explains. “That is the thrust now, to go on a nationwide attack. It remains a sales and marketing strategy. Otherwise, you will be stagnant. As a sales organization, we are here to bring in revenue for the government so we are doing all we can to maximize and optimize our capabilities,” he adds.

APO also envisions providing printing services to foreign governments and international organizations. “We want to offer our services to third world countries unable to invest in their own printing facilities and currently have their printing done by first world countries at higher cost,” APO President Dionisio says. They already have prospective clients from among the small countries in the Pacific, which are interested in having APO print their countries’ national ID. “Our interest is to close the deal. Even if it is a small country, it is still an international market so we can start on a global scale,” APO Chairman Dalumpines pronounces.

With a vision in sight and more projects in mind, APO endures. The GOCC has steadily progressed from nearly closing down nearly a decade ago to surpassing sales targets and remitting profits to the national government today, learning from the past and capitalizing on its strengths. “In our own little way, we can show the President that APO has improved. We have made positive steps that make us proud and will make the President proud. Even for a small corporation, we are contributing more than enough to the national treasury, thereby fulfilling our purpose of providing revenue for the government,” Chairman and CEO Dalumpines states.

When asked about the scope of public service APO provides, Dalumpines simply invites everyone to look at their Philippine e-Passport. “It is of a national scope. It helps our fellow countrymen in their travels abroad because our passport is one of the best in the world, award-winning and ICAO-recognized. This helps our travelers—the Filipino people, especially the OFWS—transit to other countries with ease,” he declares. “They are holding the one document that goes beyond our borders, telling the world the Philippines is slowly becoming a progressive nation capable of doing many great things.” — MAIELLE MONTAYRE 

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