Monday, April 12, 2010

How to renew your Philippine Passport in Australia, prologue

I was sick today and, it being a Monday, one of the only days when one can contact the Philippine Consulate in Victoria without having to make an appointment, I decided to find out how I'm going to renew my Philippine passport. I have a few reasons for this, foremost of which is that Ærynn and I are planning to visit home this Christmas.

Ærynn is already an Australian citizen, and getting her passport is rather straightforward. I am, however, a Philippine citizen... but I was hoping that the information for renewing my Philippine passport (which expired last month) would be as straightforward.

Again, I was reminded of inefficient processes which still remain in place despite such great examples elsewhere, and only because it is kinagisnan na.

My first step was, of course, to go to the website of the Philippine Consulate in Victoria—I did not directly to the Philippine Embassy website because I live in Melbourne while the embassy itself is in Canberra: a state away.

I saw this:

Two years ago, when I got my permanent, as opposed to probationary, permanent residency, I looked at this website in case I need to renew my passport in the near future. And the website I saw then was similar, if not the same, as the one I saw today. > click > click > click... I mean, really? Still under construction?

I can just hear what was going on in the mind of whoever is in-charge of this somewhere in the consulate: Pwede na yan! Sus! Anong gusto nila? Spoon-fed natin ang information? Okey na yan!

While my wife has a form with instructions on not only how to answer the form, what to do with the form, where to send it and what to expect, I get this on my first step... and it's not much.

But, wait! Maybe the actual embassy website will have better information. Hindi naman siguro lahat ng Pinoy mga pwede-na-yan-freaks. So I go. Oh, yeah baby! I see an entire section devoted just passports! Yay! Proudly Pinoy!

I saw this:

What got me worried at first was the amount of white space. I mean, this is it? This is the information I need? I mean, hang on. I have to be fair. All I need is to renew my passport... apply for the first timers. So, even without going to any website, I do know that I have to fill out a form, submit photos, etc. The information that I wanted, that is, the information that I don't already know was on where to send the application form, and what else is expected of me.

This "information" did not exactly expand on my knowledge... until I got to the part I highlighted.
In view of the need to incorporate biometrics in the passport and due to the highly technical specifications, all applicants are required to appear in person when filing their application with the Embassy in Canberra.
What?! What exactly did that mean? Do I have to go to Canberra to "appear in person"? This is the distance from where I live, point A, and Canberra, point B.

That's 700 kilometers away. People usually take flights to Canberra from Melbourne. And that site seems to be asking me to do this just to have my passport renewed. As a reference, Baguio City is just 250 kilometers north away from Manila, Cebu is 600 kilometers away. Yes, that far.

I ask around. First, I ask my wife, because back when she was still a Philippine citizen had to have her passport renewed. Her experience with it wasn't so good, she felt they made her go through the hoops, but at least, she said, she only needed to do it here in Victoria. Ditto a lot of other Pinoys, at least those who still have their citizenships.
When in Oz...

Most Australians, particularly the older generation, are generally vocal about their suspicion of new technology and new ways of doing things. "That's an American thing," they would say.
But most Aussie services give information through a variety of means: online, forums, millions of printed pamphlets and people (volunteers or no) who are ready to answer questions... and answer them not only in face-to-face and telephone situations, but also online (forums, VoIP, etc.).

But we technology-crazy Asians just love our red-tape. It is tradition, after all. And,
syiempre, suwerte ang pula.

But when did they get theirs done? Ah, long before July 2007. Anybody you know did theirs after that and never had to leave Victoria? A friend of a friend and, in some cases, of a friend of a friend of a friend. Uh-huh... not looking good. So, perhaps before July 2007, it was perfectly acceptable to renew a passport in the State you live in but what if things have changed?

And if things haven't changed, shouldn't it have been stated clearly and unambiguously on the official website? I can hear the masang noypis jeering now: Ang arte mo naman, p're... kailangan pa bang i-step-by-step ka diyan?

Yes, kailangan... especially if one is talking about sending an application and then finding out I needed to go to Canberra or, worse, going to Canberra and finding out that just mailing it would do. Why doesn't the site tell me ho I should do it?

It has only these links:

The application requirements tells me what I should send, yes... but where to send it, it does not.

The downloadable forms were straightforward enough... I had filled it in before so I know... but compared to the several pages affair of the Australian form (with instructions to make sure that nobody fills them in incorrectly) this 1-page form would only be just sufficient for a first timer.

Passport fees tell me how much they are going to cost... but not how to pay for it (check? money order? online e-payment? what?).

But I guess they expect you to call... okay, I'll try that.

I call the Pinoy consul in Victoria first. Someone with an Aussie accent answers (Pinoy na laki na dito or a "true-blue" Aussie, I don't know) and gives me some startling facts:

  • No, I don't have to travel to the embassy in Canberra (what a relief)
  • No, I don't even have to go to the consulate in Melbourne (oh, really? where does it say that in anything I've read so far?)
  • You just mail the form, with the photo and other requirements, including payment and then later they call me to appear just for the signature and the thumbprint... and that's for the new machine-readable passport
That last one was what I was actually expecting when I began all this and before any of the vague information from the official sites went and confused me ('ta mo, p're... ikaw 'yung confused). What the nice man cannot tell me is how much and where exactly to send it because the information is, supposedly, in the official site. Man! How delicious to cheap if only! (Ang sarap mag-mura sana!)

So, right, I am no longer confused by the process, having the process which I thought I was going to go through anyway, but I still don't have the address to send it to (send it to the embassy in Canberra, or to the consulate in Victoria?)


But my phone call to the consulate made me confident to call up the embassy. I was sure I will get another nice, well-spoken person who will set me straight. You can just see the set up a mile away, can't you?

Well, I made a mistake: I called at 12:08 pm. So I got a recording telling me that office hours did not include 12:00-1:00 pm. I shrugged that off. Makes sense. But Ærynn said that that was silly. What if I had not been sick and home today, a Monday? When will be the only time I can make personal calls? My lunch break.

And most services in Melbourne have acknowledged that fact, making sure there was staff during what they now see is the crucial lunch break hour when people conduct personal business.

But apparently, not the Philippine Embassy. Still Pinoy... it's tradition after all. But that's a minor inconvenience. I also work in the services industry and I understand if people are out to lunch.

When I got my call through hours later (not surprisingly, the line was mostly busy immediately after 1 pm), I got someone who sounded like she wasn't sure of the information she was giving me. But she gave me the following information:
  • Send a money order of $120 (not $90, as the fees section on the official site says it should be)
  • Send it to an embassy address
But I don't see the embassy address, I say. In an annoyed voice, she told me that the address can be found in the home page. I tell her I was on the home page, and I saw nothing. She told me to scroll down... further... further... further... okay, and click on the link that says "Contact us". That's the address.

When I was applying for my permanent residency, all the information was context sensitive. Not only does it tell me that there are stuff that I should send, where to send it, and how much, it was there with the other information. Crucial information like telephone numbers, costs, form numbers and addresses were repeated where they needed to appear... or, if they didn't, there was a link to that information.

On the official site, it does not tell me at all, with whatever is there as mere filler. No links to the contextual information. All of it assumes that people go to the site already having the information (supplied by gossip and word-of-mouth, as is traditional Pinoy).

So now, it's 4:30 pm... and I have only just finished getting the info I need... and I began at 10:00 am.

Wish ko lang talaga is that Pinoys would actually start thinking these through. And yes, alam ko maraming Pinoy diyan ang nanggagala-iti na sa galit na may Pinoy na merong colonial mentality (notwithstanding that the Aussies never colonized the Philippines) na hindi kinakampihan ang sariling atin. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hindi uunlad ang Pinoy kung ang palaging iniisip nila ay "Pwede na 'yan, 'wag ng magreklamo... mag-People Power na lang tayo for just any reason". And yes, I admit I'm Pinoy and that I, myself, am not perfect. But if children and fools can point out that the Emperor is butt nekid, I think I have the right to point out where Pinoys screw up.

My next post, "How to renew your Philippine Passport in Australia, instructions" will cover the actual process after I've gone through it, so I can be sure that it is the right one.