what's auntielicious?

aunties, godmothers, friends who've got the greatest experiences caring for other people's children -- the ones that they didn't bring in this world, don't have to buy diapers for, and can return back to their parents once they do #2 -- and yet have the best time of their lives with these kids.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting a new passport wasn't that bad (as before)

I have delayed much in getting my Philippine passport renewed.  I thought I still have enough time until I realized that it's only 5 more months until its expiration.  I had a green passport which was very special.  On my last two trips, I had to go to a special lane in all airports.  In Narita, they even had to pull a special computer just to verify me.  So moving from a green to a machine-readable passport is a must. 

Delayed trips happen when you procrastinate, but one of the main reasons why I kept putting it off was because of the horror story I had when I got mine ten years.

Ten years ago, I needed my passport more than I than did now because I have to go on a trip in a month with tickets paid and all.  The problem with my passport then was that it got wiped out in a fluke flood (which only happened once ever) that went up to our waists.  I was told that I needed to make an affidavit of mutilation and make a personal appearance for it.  So I went to the DFA at 7 am to line up, and the rest is horrendous history:
  1. At 8 am, I lined up and already saw a multitude of people lining up in two single queues made of around 15 people each.  Whew!  It pays to be early...or so I thought.
  2. The line wasn't moving at 10:30 am and I am getting impatient since more queues have piled up.  Then I meet up a guy who said that there's an easier way.  He was also in line and he said that there was an easier way by going to another DFA office.  It turns out to be an office outside of the DFA, one block across the street.  Another person in my queue agree with him and we both go with him to the office.
  3. By now, I understand that he was a fixer and he left us there in the "office" (full of tables and typewriters) and that they would charge PHP2,000 for getting my passport and it would only take one week from the usual 3 weeks to 1 month of the DFA.  Out of desperation, I agreed but when I got back to the car, my dad and I called my mom who had the foresight and wisdom to disagree with the process.  So I went back to the office and demanded my PHP2,000 back.  The smiles disappeared and with a frown, they asked me to just pay PHP100 since I used the signed application form.  I said yes just to get my papers out of there. 

    And yes, I had it inside of me even beforehand that this was something fishy, but I had acted in haste because I was lining up in worry and desperation.  I thought I would be more at ease if my passport was with me earlier than the normal process.  I didn't trust that the system would get it to me in time.  So the lesson learned is: do not act in haste or worry.  I chalk this one up to experience.
  4. I went back to the line and with my time wasted, there were now unbelievably 6 queues.  (For lesson learned, refer to #3)
  5. Paper evaluation was ok.  
  6. At that time, you don't have to take your picture there.  You can just bring your photo from a studio as long as it had the right specifications.  Turns out, the photo I had the right specifications in measurement but the DFA said it wasn't suitable because it was blurred.  So they said I can take a photo in the booth they've got there.  I was wearing a sleeveless blouse and I needed one with collar.  (Un)fortunately, they have some blouses (not coats) on a rack that I can borrow.  The only suitable one for ladies was sweaty and smelly.  The blouse really really stinks with so much previous people's B.O. that I wasn't breathing when the photographer asked me to smile.  Moreover, I was in line outside for 4 hours that my photo had me looking so haggard and sweaty.
  7. After the long ordeal outside, I thought the line was over.  But as it turns out, when you enter the DFA main office, there are more lines.  
  8. Before the last step was over, they had to close the office at 5 pm, so they said I had to come back.  I dreaded the next day because of the long queues.
  9. The next day, I went at 8 am and lined up for another 4 hours and finished mid-day to have the last step.
  10. After the last step was finished, I had to go back after 3-4 weeks to get my passport.  This is the only time there were no queues and I was able to get it in 30 minutes.
Fast forward to yesterday when I got my machine-readable passport from the DFA.
  1. I logged on to www.passport.com.ph to set an appointment online.  The latest day I got was one month from that day, so I reapplied again and again to get the earliest possible date.  I ended up getting a date 3 weeks from the day I applied.  
  2. I went to the DFA 30 minutes before the appointed time with my documents.  My appointment was 4:00 so I clock in at 3:30.  
  3. For the appointment paper, a staff would verify with a barcode if you indeed have the appointment.  After mine was verified, I got into my queue for the 4 pm appointment.  I was disappointed to see 3 queues of 20-30 people each.
  4. By 4 pm, the line was moving so fast that I was inside the main DFA building, moving through the queues to get my papers evaluated.  I was done by 4:45 pm. 
  5. I went to the 2nd floor to pay for the passport fee.  I chose the express processing (costs PHP1,200 and have 10 processing days) over the regular processing (costs PHP800 and have 20 processing days.)  I went to the FedEx counter to pay an additional PHP120 to have the passport delivered to me.  You can also choose LBC for the same amount.
  6. I took a number to enroll myself to get my photo, details and signature encoded.  I was aghast to learn that I need to wait for 400 more people before my turn.  
  7. Fortunately, there are around 60 terminals for encoding and the turnover was so fast.  For fun, I calculated to myself how long I need to wait till my number was called.

    Here's what I did: There is a screen that would call the number and the corresponding terminal to it (as in a bank or payment center.)  I took the last number that was called at that time (for example, 2000) and then waited 10 minutes, to get the latest number that was called on the screen.  (for example, 2035)  I then subtracted the last number from the first number (for example, 2035 - 2000 = 35) to see that in 10 minutes, that's how many people are called.  I did this for the next ten minutes to verify the number.

    I know it's kind of nerdy but I was prepared for a long wait and I didn't bring a book!  But then I found out that the system enabled approximately 35 people every 10 minutes.  Since I have 400 people to go, it would take 2 hours until my number is called.  Bummer.

    Give or take my margin of error, I think I have an hour and a half to walk around, brush my hair, cross the street to the nearest Mercury to buy some allergy pills and see the stars.  All of which I did.
  8. I returned and exactly as I have calculated, saw that there were only 5 more people before my number is called.
  9. I gave my papers, signed my signature and had this done in 10 minutes.  
  10. I clock out at 6:35.  Three hours of queuing compared to 2 1/2 days of ten years back.
Things that I laud about the DFA are:
  • Technology works.  This is what happens when the government invests in technology.  It also lessens the bureaucracy and fixers.
  • The new DFA office does indeed look good which is a good place for waiting, and a convenient McDonald's across the street.
  • Senior citizens and parents who brought kids are given special lanes, which is a very good thing for them to consider!
  • No 5 pm old government culture closing times!  Because everything is computerized, all the appointments have to be finished that day and the people in the terminals stay until each number has been encoded.
  • Everyone is given fair treatment (or at least the day I applied) -- rich, poor, OFWs, government officials.  Of course there is a special lane for government, seniors and parents with kids that they all rightly deserve.  But I've seen people in slippers and people with children waiting and playing with their iPad to overcome their boredom in the same waiting room.  
  • For those who need a passport earlier than the system can provide an appointment, there is a special lane to meet the director.  (Provided that you have given the right reason, of course.)
  • Let's just give credit where credit is due: this was done during GMA's term and cannot be attributed to this president's credit.  Before you think anything of me about this, I'm just saying to give credit where it is due.  And no, I did not vote for GMA the last two terms.
Things to remember when getting your passport:
  • Apply early.  It takes a month now because of the many people who need to renew to the machine readable passport.
  • Take note of all the documents you need.  Xerox them all.  Don't have them xeroxed there because the xerox is a long queue and it costs PHP5.00 each per xerox!  It's the only monopoly allowed in this office.
  • Bring a book, PSP, sudoku or something to pass the time.  It's still 3 hours.
  • If you can apply with a senior citizen or if you can bring your kids (7 and below), do that so that you'll end up shorter than 3 hours.
Finally, I just want to let you know that I have actually found it a relief to have a good passport renewal experience.  I'm just sharing it.

By the way, I'm not a government employee or connected to the DFA.  Please do not ask me for any process-oriented questions.  Please refer to www.passport.com.ph instead, ok?


skysenshi said...

Uy, we have almost the same experience. :) I applied for passport renewal last year and blogged about it after: http://www.skysenshi.com/2009/10/department-of-foreign-affairs-for-win.html.

I like your blow-by-blow account. :)

skysenshi said...

Oh, but I didn't wait that long, though. I was done even before my scheduled appointed time.

jemps said...

oh wow, matagal pa rin pala! jason and i renewed ours sometime last year, also online. took two weeks to get an appointment, and upon getting to the DFA it only took us 10-15 mins for the entire thing coz there was an usher in charge of those who applied online, so it was a lot faster.

auntielicious said...

@skysenshi: I read your blog first before I came to get a feel of what to expect. Because you got a good experience, I felt more at ease too.

@jemps: Wow! 10-15 minutes? I guess a lot of people now apply online so there are more people who lined up for the same queue.

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