Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Department of Fixers A-plenty: that was how I viewed the DFA (actually Foreign Affairs) for the longest time. And for the longest time I had no opportunity to change my view—the first time I had to get a passport was in 1995 and back then a travel agent can get it for you. So I had no need to personally go to the DFA.

I lost my passport between 1996 and 2000; back then I did not have plans of going abroad so I didn’t bother getting a new one. But two weeks ago our boss told us to get our passports ready—the whole office was going to Hong Kong!

To renew my lost invalid passport I had to apply in person at the DFA in Pasay City. This Monday I got my birth certificate from the National Statistics Office. Tuesday I spent almost the entire day getting my passport photos taken and preparing the necessary supporting documents. I scheduled my trip to DFA the following morning.

I woke up Wednesday at 4:30am to thunderous rainfall. Typhoon Chedeng had dragged monsoon rains and was hitting Metro Manila at full blast. For a moment I thought of postponing my trip to Thursday. But part of me thought: with this weather, maybe only a few people will go to DFA.

Braving flooded areas of EDSA, I reached DFA at 6:40am. By 7:00 I was already in line (I wasted time going back to the car to get the passport photos I left there). They let us in a little earlier and by 7:30 the windows were open and the processing started.

It was thankfully very efficient. Everything was done as fast but as efficient as they could. And there were signs everywhere telling you what to do every step of the way—at the front of the lines, on the windows, everywhere. And the processing was fast. Window A just made sure that the documents were in order; people stayed there for less than 10 seconds before moving to the next window. Window B double-checked the veracity of the documents; because they had to retrieve my lost passport’s data via computer, I stayed there for about a minute and a half. Window C was where I stayed the longest—that was where they asked me for proof of residency and other pertinent questions (“What is your father’s middle name?” and “Where was your mother born?”). Because everything was in order, I was told to proceed to the cashier to pay.

At the cashier I paid Php750 for the 2-day express processing and then looked around for the next step. There were no signs on the window. I turned back to the cashier and asked, “Excuse me, what’s next?” The cashier looked me in the eye and said, “You go home, sir.” Then he grinned at me.

Wow. That was it? By 8:15am I was done. I could even come in for work on time. The stormy weather had nothing to do with it; I overheard a DFA employee exclaim, “There’s a storm already yet there are still so many people in line?!”

As Leigh said, efficiency is the killer of corruption.

So if you are going to get a passport at the DFA (passport application starts at the huge DFA basketball court that’s converted to their processing area during the day), make sure that you deal only with real DFA employees. On the street outside the alley leading to the DFA are stalls of photocopier services, canteens, and ID photo shops. Men standing in front of them will approach you; IGNORE them. One of them said that I needed to get an application form first from their stall—not true! Application forms are available inside the DFA for free. Another guy said I needed to get a number first from stall 2—again, not true! Your application form will be stamped with a valid number only after standing in line inside the DFA. Once you’re in line with a valid number, everything afterwards proceeds like clockwork and can be done by you—no need for fixers.

* * * * *

While waiting in line I scanned the other poor souls who braved the weather to get their passports. Most looked like they were overseas Filipino workers on their way to try their luck abroad, either for the first time or for the nth time. One mother brought her crying baby with her. I was wearing a long-sleeved collarless shirt and jeans yet I felt over-dressed compared to the rest.

Then he came in.
He looked like a college boy. He was with an old man whom I assumed was his dad and another guy in a polo barong who looked like he was the old man’s employee. The old man instructed college boy to take his place in line while he and employee, who held the documents, sat on a bench at the side of the court.

Okay now. If I met college boy at a mall or in the Ateneo or in Makati I wouldn’t have given him a second glance. He’s tall and smooth-skinned and looked neat and fastidious, with very lovely, kissable lips, but that’s it. However, when placed in the midst of OFWs and moms with crying babies and a 41-yr old from the lower middle class who had not taken a bath yet at that time (since he rationalized that: [1] he was already running late and taking a quick shower would have serious repercussions on his timetable; [2] it was so cold he wouldn’t sweat and produce body odor; and [3] even if he did, he’ll be in and out of there for one time only and would never see the others for the rest of his life, so who cares if someone beside him thought he stank?), college boy by comparison looked like Mr. Dreamboat. I started assessing him from head to foot: neat blue cap to discreetly hide his Fil-Chinese mestizo features, Lacoste jacket, preppy t-shirt with plaid accents, heavy metal Tag watch, pin-stripped dress pants with matching dress socks, and immaculately white Pumas. Plus he was busy pounding the keys of his Nokia N-series phone the whole time. As my eyes wandered from head to foot, my mental cash register kept going Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Mwhahahaha! My inner social climber wanted to grab both his hands, look into his eyes, and say: “I’m yours.”

It’s amazing what the power of contrast can do to boost a guy’s pogi points. Sigh. I should really start hanging out with the taong grasas for me to be noticed.

* * * * *

Dear Dan, Rye and Rabbi: I will definitely be in Hong Kong from Aug. 19 to 21. Sana you have shows I can watch in one day. Anyway, bahala na. Wheee! I’m excited.

P.S. – No, I’m not there to review all the bathhouses in H.K. Maybe just one. Or two. Charing!


Joel said...

Potah ka McVie...ganun ka na ba kadesperado para lang mapansin? Hehehehehe!

Pero in fairness, it's good that you brought a favorable light to the DFA. :)

joelmcvie said...

KATUKAYO: I really think we should encourage positive things, especially efficient service.

gibbs cadiz said...

aba, viejera this august huh. wellwellwell! hugs to rabbi, dan, rye, noel r., roy rolloda and everybody i know there (parang andami, wahaha). bring back lots of pics! :)

Nelson said...

Same thing can be said for the Department of Tourism. I was there a couple of months ago to get a tourist tax exemption (because I'm a Filipino departing the country, and since I don't live in the Philippines anymore, I should be exempt from the tax!). I simply went to Window 2 where they took my passport, Canadian PR and return flight to Vancouver, checked everything, then told me to pay the fee. After paying, I was asked to wait for my papers, which they gave to me in less than 15 mins. The whole processing took less than 30 mins!

My faith in the Philippine government system is slowly being restored with this experience of delightful efficiency! I think there's hope to the PH yet!

Nelson said...

BTW I think you'll like HK -- if not for the yummy dimsum delights! he he he

Have a safe trip and good luck!

joelmcvie said...

GIBBS: Sige I'll say hello to them when I meet them. :-)

NELZ: Sana naman tuloy-tuloy na ang pag-unlad.

John Halcyon von Rothschild said...

It's nice to hear that getting your passport has become more efficient there. Here we just mail in the application and the old passport except there's some sort of backlog now.

Enjoy Hong Kong! It's such a great city and it reminds me so much of New York. I visited last year with my Mom and Lola. Lola remarked how the Philippines could have been Hong Kong...only if...

Oh Yeah! Bring your credit shop shop! and do some sight seeing in between. Enjoy!

cant_u_read said...

19?!? sunday? bakit hindi 18 para makapag-saturday night fever tayo? gagawan kita ng itinerary ha? kasma jan syempre ang pagpo-podcast!

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh..shades of Malu Fernandez on your take on the OFWs... Let me remind you, your friends Dan and Rye... OFWs too. - carl