This is for Ysa, who kept me company through text while I was waiting in line at the Department of Foreign Affairs to renew my passport, and who has been waiting for my sharing about that experience.
I'm flying tomorrow to Malaysia thanks to God who gave me the following blessings:
1. My mother's generosity, which extends all the way to Singapore for this five-day trip;
2. My sister-in-law's surfing skills in getting us the cheapest and best deal for this trip (Peeya, you are now my official travel agent);
3. My sister-in-law's sister's (Pauline, that's you!) hospitality, because she will host us there in Malaysia and accompany us to Singapore as our personal tour guide;
4. Budget airfares to Asia - indeed, "Now Everyone Can Fly!"; and
5. The efficiency of DFA-Manila. Mabuhay kayo!
Ysa is waiting for the latter's contribution to my joy. I must be getting old because despite knowing I would fly sometime July, I forgot that my passport was expiring on the first week of August. I belatedly attempted to have it renewed, first, through the courtesy lane for government employees, while I was still at Sandiganbayan. Unfortunately, my officemate who volunteered to renew my passport for me got seriously ill, and I was delayed for two weeks in getting back my passport from her. By the time I tried to avail of the courier service, it was too late, as they needed several more working days than I could afford. I tried my trusted travel agency, Silverglobe, but alas, they said they needed two weeks to process my passport renewal. Cramming does not pay! I had to pay extra in terms of stress.
So I found myself one day armed with a map to DFA to try my luck once more in a government office. I braced myself for the worst in terms of red tape and fixers (see my blog on the LTO experience). I was grouchy all the way to the DFA as I thought I would meet the same fate, that of lining up for six precious hours just because I refused to deal with fixers.
I downloaded the application form and filled it up at home, complete with my passport photo, which I had to re-take because the Kodak center nearest our house didn't cut the pictures properly, and my thumbmarks.
I prayed "Hail Mary full of grace, please give me a parking space". Her intercession worked, as I got a good parking space.
There were several people crowding the gate, and two women accosted me to ask what I would do inside the DFA.
"Ma'am, renewal po? Patingin nga po ng form niyo." I showed them my printout inside a clear plastic folder. As one they said, "Naku ma'am kung galing sa internet kailangan pa pong tatakan ng number iyan".
Since I drove through Manila traffic and was already grouchy in the first place, I looked the ladies with suspicious eyes. They pushed me to a store across the street, which I noticed was not part of the DFA, where a man took one look at my computer printout-application form and said, "Luma na po iyan! Kailangan niyo po ng form, may binebenta kami. Atsaka ang picture niyo po, maling size!"
I couldn't believe what he was saying. I double-checked the size of my photos and was pretty sure that a form downloaded a few hours before could not be outdated. I also was not in the mood to believe them. I said I was going inside. They tried to stop me, saying, "Ganun din po ang sasabihin nila sa inyo sa loob! Magpapicture na kayo sa amin at mag-fill up na ng bagong form." I said I'll believe them if the DFA employees tell me so.
I went inside the gates, showed my documents, and was led by the DFA employees to where I should wait. In just four steps, I was able to file my application. It took me less than an hour!!! Kudos to the DFA team for their efficiency. They checked the lines to make sure people were lining up properly. There were still fixers all around - I could smell them from a distance due to my LTO experience. They were people who lined up near closing time with thick bunches of forms that belonged to people who did not want to line up, and they were not from travel agencies, either. Anyway there is no need for them!
I went home so happy and thankful. I was even able to pass by for my father at his office in Makati before proceeding to Quezon City. I could not believe the gall of those people - the ladies at the gate who said internet forms needed a number (what a total lie!), the man at the store who insisted I got the wrong form and picture so he could disposses me of some cash, and all their cohorts. I don't know how they could sleep at night with all those lies that came out of their mouths so smoothly! I pitied the many people they conned everyday. I'm writing this post to warn others who might encounter them.
To my countrymen, the cheapest way to renew your passport is to apply for it yourself. The quickest way is to download the form from the Internet and prepare the passport photos from a reputable studio beforehand. You don't need any help outside the gates of the DFA. It only takes an hour at most, and then you can ask the courier to deliver your passport right at your doorstep. Fixers and their ilk would disappear if the Filipino people would STOP going to them for shortcuts. Let's rid this country of corruption on all levels of government.
There it is, Ysa, my DFA story. Thank you for encouraging me to be patient, sis.