The new heroes of the millennium shouldn’t need to stress out during their precious vacations . . .
[Note : Not only the batch-officer organizers, but also everyone who organized a gathering prior to and after the actual SJCS Batch 82 30th anniv reunion are to be commended and praised woohoo! You know who you are, but if you think someone/s should be given a special mention, please buzz this loyal blogger and I will oblige ! ]
MODERN MAN, if the utopians and dystopians are to be believed, sacrifices a whole lot for the common good of humanity’s survival and welfare. Diminution of personal rights, the alienation of man from society in favor of Big Brother and the totalitarian state; and so many other scary Matrix-type scenarios that make you long for the days when life was simpler and we were closer to the heavens.
Being more or less a fatalistic worker ant type, I can live with most of the necessary evils of modern society. I almost forgot that it’s easy for me to do this because where I temporarily call home, there are ten times less people, the pie of basic services isn’t sliced into wafer-thin portions, and it isn’t a test of Job-like patience to wait, wait, and wait some more to get issued a basic ID document, certification or registration that in NZ takes probably 1% of the time it takes here, and done for free no less.
Granted, basic services like the processing and issuance of police clearances have vastly improved compared to as recently as 10 years ago. For one thing, many malls have opened up counters to help clearance-seeking Pinoys, thus avoiding the need to go to an NBI (National Bureau of Invesigation) main or regional office. Too, the lines are orderly, the “fixers” who move you up the queue (or find a way to sort your papers without spending time in queues) in return for a small fee, are substantially less now, and there are even small waiting rooms to assuage the interminable wait of the waiting.
But all these small innovations couldn’t make up for the fact that, because I had a relatively common sounding name, it was procedure for me to wait for “Quality Control” to find out whether or not I’d been convicted of homicide, murder, rape, robbery, theft and a few other unsavory felonies or dodgy misdemeanors.
At the main office 10 days later, I stood patiently in line with Cruzes, dela Cruzes, Santoses, Reyeses, Mendozas in a motley crew of anonymous and Everyman sounding surname-holders who wished they came from a more unique-sounding family tree.
Most Filipino surnames were either handed down from the Spaniard colonizers or Christianized versions of original Pintado names, most probably Sanskrit in origin. Regardless of the provenance, because the population has ballooned to around 90 million in the last few generations, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell apart the law-abiding and recidivist versions of every Tom, Dick and Jerry, or Tomas, Ricardo and Geraldo to most of us.
And that’s why the bored-sounding NBI apparatchik asked me perfunctory questions like what was your last job? Where you an employee of XYZ Corporation during the years so-and-so? The questions were answerable by a simple yes or no, meaning the questioner was probably aware that only the stupidest criminal would walk into a national law-enforcement agency and expose his criminal record, and all his attempts to escape the long arm of the law, after obviously being able to blend into the background.
I did sweat a bit when the interviewer asked me if I lived in the vicinity of Paco, Manila during a specific time, because the latter was where I grew up. Fortunately, it was a different street and barangay altogether, but that specific line of questioning did give me a few anxious moments.
All told, it was a lesson for me to exhort future expecting parents and grandparents, especially those with alias-sounding names, to give their kids unique, or at least multiple given names to avoid being given a hard time at the airport, border or checkpoint.
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Another close encounter with bureaucracy was at the POEA where I had to obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate or OEC. Every Filipino who works overseas must carry this certificate upon leaving, lest he or she wants to (again) be hassled at departure.
I could see OFWs like me from all guilds and professions, patiently lined up with passports, employment contracts and supporting documents at the cavernous processing area in the POEA.
Everyone knew it was a big, money-making scheme by whoever was in power, sorry for the cynicism. When you’re abroad, all that matters to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is that you remit foreign exchange home, in one way or another. The generalization is unfortunate, but OFWs in dire straits and sticky situations know better than to rely on the assistance and initiative of our representatives abroad. Before I say anything more negative, I’ll leave it at that.
But you could tell that everyone knew the reality of needing an OEC on the way back to work after your leave in your eternal barrio. Some domestic helpers were flanked by their suitcases having come obviously straight from the airport, and intending to sort out their OEC before boarding the plane/boat/bus ride home.
Plumbers, welders, carpenters, forklift drivers all held their visas and pasaportes, having done gigs in Europe, the Americas, Africas, no outpost was too remote to be represented. Everyone needed the same document, no matter how exotic the location, how narrow the specialization, how thick with greenbacks the pay envelope.
The OEC, useless as it was, was the great equalizer among worker classes in the OFW universe.
For the record, the queueing number of 735 that I held in my sweaty palm sounded worse than it actually was. I was done in around two hours, but mainly because my details were already in the system and nothing needed to be updated.
The two-and-a-half thousand pesos I dutifully paid was for : OFW insurance, processing fees, Philhealth premiums and Pag-ibig membership fees. None of these levies would ultimately redound to my benefit, but like millions of other dollar-slaves, I pay them without question, in return for P-Noy leaving me alone.
To be fair, I did come across an update in the papers including new cancers and dread diseases under the coverage of Philhealth, and that’s some comfort at least for the great masses of Pinoys who can’t even use the toilet at St Lukes, Medical City, Cardinal Santos Medical. It’s not world-class health insurance, but it’s better than nothing.
But I won’t hold my breath waiting under the guava tree for the remainder of the blessings of those hard-earned twenty-five hundred pesos. As they say, iabuloy mo na lang sa Inang Bayan.
Thanks for reading !