The F in DFA stands for “FUN”
I was in the midst of preparing for a trip when I realized that my passport will expire this July. I last renewed my passport in Phnom Penh, months before I left Cambodia. It was a breeze renewing the passport through the Philippine Embassy. There were no long lines and I knew some of the staff by name, which compensated for the long-ish wait. I immediately logged on to the DFA website to set my appointment. I was initially pleased to see that there were at least 6 places I can go instead of the main facility. However, my first attempt (site: a mall close to where I live) was unsuccessful because the earliest available day was March 6. Then I got frustrated again when I found out that just to see available dates for the other sites, I will have to log on again to the service, and fill out the same form again. I browsed all sites only to find out that the earliest available date (February 20) can only be had at the main facility of DFA.
My appointment was 1PM and the site advised me to be there by 12:30. I over-estimated the traffic that day so I arrived at DFA at about 11:45AM. After I got my appointment verified, I was told that I will have to find my own place because there was no space yet for those who have a 1PM appointment. I looked at the waiting area. There were were about 12rows of benches, with about 10 people on each row. At the right end of each row there were signs showing their times of appointment. The first 4 rows appeared to have 11AM appointment. The last row showed a 12:30PM appointment. If these people heeded the advise in the website, then they’ve waiting here for about an hour and a half already. I realized, with dismay, that this same fate, awaits me. I abandoned my hope of getting home by 3PM.
True enough, by 12:30PM, the first few rows (11AM) were herded out of the waiting room, allowing some of us with 1PM appointment to sit at the back. By 1PM, we have snaked our ways along the chairs to advance a few rows. The standing guy in white in the picture below was one of three people choreographing this elaborate production number. I admired their patience, especially when there was a group of three women who kept on breaking the line so they could sit on the seats closest to the aisle.
At 2PM, minutes after ending in the front rows, it was our turn to stand and be herded off to the next step. There were loud reminders about having our documents ready and in hand, etc. To reach our second station, we were taken to a somewhat circuitous route outside the building and we ended up in another entrance. As we stood on queue, we were again reminded to make sure that we had photocopied documents ready and that if we didn’t we’ll be sent back to the end of the line. I was surprised to see people get off the queue and run towards the small photocopying center.
We didn’t wait long outside. But before we were herded back inside this new room, a large poster on quality assurance caught my eyes. In particular, my eyes were drawn to this particular bit of information: that processing my new passport should only take 27 minutes. But what brought a smile to my lips was the disclaimer that followed, that the time spent in the queue’s is not included.
Inside, we were again seated in a snaking row of benches and chairs while the flow of people was being managed by a blinged-out diminutive lady. At this point, I was already expecting tempers to flare up because of (1) the long wait, (2) this room felt stifling and not to mention noisy, (3) the presence of people who didn’t know how to behave in a queue, and (4) the irritatingly loud voice of the lady who were herding us. True enough, a lady who looked like a younger version of Luz Fernandez–only more masculine–called out Little Lady Bling for her seemingly brusque treatment of those who are in line. A short argument followed, comprised mostly of young Luz Fernandez blowing her top and the LLB trying to appease her. At this point, we were supposed to approach individual windows to have our documents checked and stamped. I wondered how fast this would take if all the windows were open. There were about 12 windows there and only half of them open.
I made it out of this room at around 3PM. We were told to go to the second floor for the final stages of paying at the cashier and having our fingerprints and faces captured and encoded electronically. To my pleasant surprise, there was no line at all at the cashier. I was able to pay quickly but when I looked for the queue for the final step, my heart sank to further depths when I saw the queue. If I used the snake to describe the two previous queue’s, this was undoubtedly an anaconda. It was like a never-ending game of ‘Trip to Jerusalem’.
Then again, the optimist in me still found a silver lining. This room was cooler than the previous two, and felt less claustrophobic. The five of us who’d been sitting and standing intermittently for the last 3 hours were already chatting amiably, greatly reducing our boredom and irritability. Even young Luz Fernandez had obviously simmered down. She even managed to smile while talking to someone on her mobile phone.
By 4:30PM I was out of DFA. My newfound comrades and I parted ways at the exit gate. The bond I felt with them was similar to the kind that one feels for others after surviving a nerve-wracking or even a traumatic experience, such as a vehicular accident, or the queues at DFA.
After braving the rush hour traffic, I finally reached home at around 7PM.