TACLOBAN CITY – For prospective overseas workers living in remote communities, securing a passport means waking up early, enduring a long trip, go to different agencies to process requirements, and queue at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) regional consular office here.
Eric Lara, 28, left their village of Botaera in Zumarraga, Samar at 4 a.m. on Thursday (July 28) to take an hour boat ride to Catbalogan City.
From Catbalogan, he travelled nearly three hours by bus to get to this city, where the regional DFA office is located.
This is his second time to be at the DFA office. He was here three weeks ago, only to be told that he needs to return home to bring more requirements.
“I just heard from our neighbors who secured passports few years back what the basic requirements are but I found out that I still have to bring more legal identity documents,” said Lara, a carpenter, who wants to obtain a job in Israel.
Accompanied by his wife, Lara has already spent about P4,000 in the processing of requirements, to include fare, food and even lodging.
Since there’s only one daily trip back to Zumarraga, they have to stay overnight in Catbalogan and catch the next day trip.
Every day, hundreds of people, mostly prospective overseas workers, showed up at the DFA office to process the requirements. They write their names down in a book that will gain them first preference in processing.
Waiting nearby the door of DFA field office was Rowena Sabandal, 32, of Barangay Taglibas in Matalom, a town in Leyte, 169 kilometers south from the regional capital.
She left home before sunrise, took a single motorcycle ride to the town center and took a four-hour bus ride to Tacloban.
Sabandal, a single mother, needs a passport to be able to secure a domestic helper job in Saudi Arabia.
This is her second time to be in the city. She was here last Monday (July 25) to get her certificate of live birth from the Philippine Statistics Authority regional office and National Bureau of Investigation clearance.
“It’s very hard for me to travel here. I just borrowed money from a friend. I speak Bisaya and I don’t understand the Waray dialect. Last Monday, I paid a penalty of P200 for violating the jaywalking ordinance,” Sabandal shared.
Both Lara and Sabandal completed their requirements on Thursday. They will come back after more than two weeks to get their passport.
The DFA admitted the inconvenience, but they are implementing measure to reduce the burden of processing. The consular office kicked off the online appointment system on July 1.
“We are implementing the system, but we still entertain walk in applicants since we are still on the transition period. We have been encouraging people to get online appointment because eventually we will not entertain walk-ins,” said DFA Tacloban consular head Karen Terado.
Appointments may be obtained by visiting the website: https://www.passport.gov.ph/
Exempt from obtaining confirmed online appointments are applicants entitled to the courtesy lane – senior citizens, minors aged seven and below, overseas Filipino workers with contracts, and persons with disabilities. The exemption is, however, subject to certain conditions.
“The system aims to make passport application and renewal more efficient. This will address the problem of queuing,” Terado added.
But for Lara, the online appointment will not work in their coastal town where most people are computer illiterates; no computer shops; no internet connectivity; and mobile phone signals are weak.
The system accepts 180 online appointments for Tacloban office daily. The DFA reserves up to 70 slots for walk-in applicants who are exempted from the system.
During his first State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered to simplify the process of securing passports to alleviate the inconvenience of applicants.
Responding to the clamor for timely issuance of Philippine passports, Duterte vowed to work towards amendment of the 1996 passport law to lengthen the validity of the passports from the current five years to 10 years.
The consular office is still waiting for new directives from the DFA central office, heeding the President’s order, according to Terado. (SARWELL Q. MENIANO)