Delayed passport processing excuses

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

International travel is once again top of mind for more Filipinos, but pandemic-related concerns are being overshadowed by a bigger headache: getting a passport or having it renewed whether you’re a local or an overseas Filipino wanting to come home for Christmas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had recently issued an apology, citing a bunch of reasons, all of which sound hollow given the long history of ineptness of civil servants in foreign service. Do we get angry? No, because this infamous track record of inefficiency has numbed us beyond exasperation.

Many horror stories abound, but even the “normal” ones can ruin one’s day. One millennial who needed to renew his passport recounts how, having successfully booked an online appointment and correctly paid the necessary fees, was left with little choice but to book an appointment at the DFA office in Olongapo City – and he lives in the south! He says it was better than having to go to one of the DFA offices in the Visayas.

The Olongapo DFA facility is one that the department calls as TOPS or a temporary off-site passport services processing office. Located in a mall, people coming in for their scheduled appointment were shepherd to wait inside a cinema.

He says the place was packed with people, many like him coming from Metro Manila, although “chaperoned” by family (some even with children) or friends who did not have any official business with DFA. Pandemic-related guidelines, especially social distancing, was conspicuously disregarded.

Even if the locality of Olongapo was not on a low pandemic alert level, most of the people who were at the mall were clearly not locals, making it an opportunity to become a coronavirus super-spreader, especially if someone there was infected with the more contagious Delta variant.

Passports for work

On an efficiency scale, the DFA is one at the lower, if not lowest, rung among government agencies in providing service to Filipinos. Especially these days when more than 10 million of our citizens are migrant workers, the DFA admitting to a passport backlog of a million or more is murderous.

Overseas working Filipinos are often under a tight schedule from the time they start paperwork for confirmed jobs abroad to the date when their new employer needs them to start working. While many may give allowances for delays caused by passport issuance issues, work put off for a later date means lost income.

Citing server overload as a reason for delays in sending confirmation emails of appointments for passport issuance just sounds so incredulous in this day and age, more so since the DFA has always been bugged by all kinds of delays since time immemorial. We’ve all had enough of the excuses.

The DFA should show more respect for our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by sorting out once and for all the processing kinks that delay passport issuance. The efficiency of courtesy lanes reserved for OFWs is hampered by the lack of people who can process papers.

Worse, the DFA’s published contact telephone numbers and email addresses are of no help since they are manned only by automatic answering machines, which really only serve to heighten anxiety levels of people on the other end of the line. If an actual person is not going to respond, better deactivate it.

Our honorable Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. may offer the most eloquent messages about matters dealing on relations with other countries, both on controversial or diplomatic issues, but he should pay more attention to the delivery of services that matter most to individual Filipinos who pay for his salary and that of his whole work force.

Support domestic tourism

If you don’t want to be bothered by all the fuss about passport issuance, but need to relieve your hankering to escape the four walls of your house, now is the time to consider doing your bit for local tourism. Revisiting famous out-of-town jaunts without reckoning with foreign travelers could offer a different, yet soothing experience.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has been preparing for the day when economic activity, including tourism, returns to pre-pandemic status. With more Filipinos receiving vaccines against COVID-19, more areas in the country are declared at lower alert levels.

In many areas, you’ll still need a vaccination card, and be mindful of where to book lodgings. Best to go for DOT-accredited accommodation establishments, which at different alert levels, allow full onsite capacity bookings that ensure a safe stay.

The DOT has prepared a great online guide that offers destinations to interest the less-jaded domestic tourist. The website (philippines.travel) is easy to navigate and is replete with suggestions on where to go and what to do.

Our tourism stakeholders have been among the worst hit during this pandemic, and while inbound tourism is still not on the table, it will be good to help support local tourism before the government allows leisure-seeking foreigners to enter the country.

If you’re still wary of getting on a plane, road trips are an alternative. Quite a number of expressways have been completed during the lockdowns, resulting in shorter travel time going up north or down south, and more time for sightseeing or just rest and recreation, in places where you can ditch your facemask outdoors.

With December coming up fast, the DOT recommends early booking to avoid an expected surge of people hoping to take a long vacation during the last two weeks of the month. Barring any escalation of new infections, let’s end this year on a high note.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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