Govt. & Taxes, Philippines

Monday, October 22, 2007

Getting a Philippine passport

Recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has come up with machine-readable passport (MRP), a first for so many years. It was a very welcome development, and I heard that credit specially goes to Assistant Secretary Doy Lucenario.

With that one good job done, another job that I hope the DFA will do, and it should do, is to reduce the long queu of people applying for a passport. When I went there last year to renew my passport, no less than 8 undesirable- looking guys immediately approached me while I was walking towards the DFA in Roxas Bblvd. A few of them even told me that the passport application form I downloaded from the DFA website is not valid, that I should get a valid form at a nearby shop. Of course when you follow him/them, more guys will surround you so that they can fool you somehow.

A friend of a friend who was applying for her passport for the first time just 2 months ago was robbed by fixers of P1,600 "service fee", a service that never came. These guys are very friendly and courteous to prospective victims, and they thrive on two things: complexity and time-consuming, if not chaotic, procedures in getting a new (or renewing) passport, and ignorance and gullibility of potential victims. Of course one can make malicious conspirary theories like some of these fixers are in cahoots with some DFA personnel, and the latter get a percentage from the earnings of those fixers.

In my case, when I applied for the renewal of my passport last year -- because passports expire after 5 years -- a friend who has a friend at the DFA, helped me so I went to the "courtesy lane" (CL). This lane is for families and friends of DFA personnel, other government personnel. The purpose of this lane is to fastrack the application of these people from an otherwise complicated and time-consuming process if one is just an ordinary Filipino citizen, and have opted to personally go there, not through some travel agencies who charge an extra professional fee to do the job.

Before you go to the CL, you go to one rather vacant room in the DFA (well, I noticed that there was more than 1 vacant room, or room with tables but no staff working there). A staff will get your referral letter, then he or she will write to the guys at the CL to give you the privilege of being accommodated at that lane.

At the CL waiting area, there are many other people -- from uniformed soldiers and policemen to relatives or family members or friends and neighbors of this and that government official. After a few hours (submission of forms, payment, etc.) you can leave that office and come back on a specified date to get your new passport.

Outside, there is still a long queu of ordinary Filipinos who have no "connection" with some high government officials, or maybe they have, but they do not know that there is such as thing as CL and that they can possibly avail of it too.

How to reduce the long queu of passport applicants at DFA? Among the measures that I can think of are the following:

(a) Passport application office should be open 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, say from 7am to 7pm, no noon break. Additional staff may have to be hired for this. Or,

(b) If they want to stick to an 8 hours/day office, the office should be open until saturdays and sundays. Again, additional staff may have to be hired. Or,

(c) Better that the office be operating 12 hours a day Mon-Fri, 8 hours on Saturdays.

(d) Decentralize application procedure to a few accredited travel agencies, in addition to regular work in the DFA.

When you spread that big number of passport applicants over a longer period of time, the per hour queu is shortened.

What the DFA did so far, is to have regional DFA offices where people from the region can apply passport. Still it's too centralized in one city for the whole region.