Wasting time in long lines

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc -
Haydee Carlos and Jojo Dancel are just two of many workers who’ve written to decry the long queues to renew their overseas employment card. The OEC is a requirement of the Phil. Overseas Employment Authority, a clearance that a worker has been duly processed for stint abroad and would not be flying out with mere tourist visa. First-time and vacationing workers must line up at the POEA head office in Intramuros, Manila, or any of its few satellite stations to buy it for P100.

Carlos tried to get an OEC for the first time on Dec. 21 at the POEA and, in a tizzy to spend her Christmas break with relatives, was dismayed by the lines that snaked all the way outside the building. She took an hour’s cab ride to a satellite station in a Mandaluyong mall and there finally got it – in a record three hours.

"I thought the ordeal was over," she said, "but at the airport I learned that the OEC had yet to be verified at the POEA desk. I had to go out of the terminal to look for it, and there was another long line. Yet validation took nothing more than a person stamping the card. What red tape! It was a lot easier paying the airport fee and travel tax. I wasted my precious holiday queuing."

The POEA personnel were courteous, Carlos noted, but their system sucks. "If we must get that pass, can they not allow us to apply on-line and pay by credit card?" she suggested. "If they call us modern-day heroes for the billion-dollars we send home, then they should treat us with respect."

Carlos obliquely spelt everything wrong with our bureaucrats: so obsessed with imposing rules yet so distrustful of these that they must pile up more rules; so uncaring about the efforts of the citizens they profess to serve; so low tech that they think everybody has the time to loaf like them. The traffic aide aimlessly waving gridlocked cars to move, the many fixers vying to facilitate vehicle registration, the policeman shrugging that he can’t do anything about a burglary unless the complainant has a suspect – they all typify bureaucratic inefficiency. It’s like Roosevelt’s New Deal of hiring laborers to dig holes and then more laborers to patch them up.

And so it must take citizens like Dancel, who takes five to six trips home a year from overseas work, to think of ways to improve the system. Noting the ease with which he pays his annual Medicare and other dues to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (incidentally another layer in the bureaucratic fat), he has started an on-line signature drive to make the labor department see the light. More so from the standpoint of majority of overseas workers who get a precious few days of break only every two or three years, and must spend a big part of it at the OEC lines. He writes:

"Here are alternative options to your process:

"(1) Make the OEC payment only once a year. If a worker goes home six times a year, he must pay P600; the POEA then issues him a card that shows it is valid for six times. Only after using up the six points will he have to apply for a new OEC. Others can opt for as many as 12 or 20 advance payments. If we pay Medicare only once a year, we can do the same with the OEC.

"(2) Use the E-card that POEA tells every overseas worker to get – the OPCIB (what, another requirement?) – and tie up with banks where we can make OEC payments. The banks, acting as satellite stations, can themselves issue OECs. That will decongest the POEA office ground floor during peak seasons: Christmas, Lent, Chinese New Year, Ramadan.

"(3) Do away with the validation at the airport. All the worker has to do is show his E-card (OPCIB) and a receipt for the one-time OEC payment at the airline counter, where they can stamp the boarding pass and tick off the used vacation point."

The advantages of Dancel’s suggestions are obvious. The POEA will save POEA money spent to run the airport desk. It will decongest Manila of thousands of workers having to drive down for their OECs. It can put its ground floor to better use than a symbol of ineptness. Most of all, vacationing workers get to spend more time with the family.

Then again, that OEC may be as superfluous as the tax on books slapped by the finance department at a time when government is pushing science and math education. What’s the OEC for anyway?
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FOLLOW-UP: Among the many replies to my pitch for coco-biodiesel (Gotcha, 4 Mar. 2005) are two technical ones that readers might find salient:

From Abet Filart: "The reason the 1-percent blend is not being implemented is cost. It takes P80 to produce a liter of coconut methyl ester, which at 1-percent blend raises the full-tank cost by 60¢ a liter. If mass-produced co-codiesel can go down to P55 per liter. But that’s still 35¢ more per liter for a full tank. Malaysia and Indonesia are exporting excess palm oil to Europe for biodiesel conversion. Thailand has earmarked $1.5 billion to plant millions of hectares to palm oil. Aside from our coconut, there is good prospect in alcohol from our sugarcane for blending with gasoline."

From geologist Manuel C. Diaz: "We must change the formulation of our biodiesel. We use coco methyl ester, a component of which is methanol, which is toxic and does not biodegrade, This is why the U.S. is phasing out MTBE as gasoline additive from methanol. I suggest ethanol alcohol from sugarcane (very biodegradable), with potassium hydroxide as catalyst in lieu of lye. The by-products glycerol and potassium can be sold separately, thus bringing the cost of biodiesel lower than the $4-per-gallon in the U.S."
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