25 September 2012

Need Passport? DFA is at Robinson's Lipa

Click this link for instructions:
How to Get a Passport at DFA-Lipa

I have to admit, there is a certain novelty to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Passport Division relocating to a mall. Whoever thought of this ought to get a commendation. It is definitely considerate to citizens although one quickly realizes that this is good business for the mall as well.

Since I live reasonably close to Robinson’s Place and having heard that the DFA had already opened shop inside the mall, I went to have my expired passport renewed.

The DFA office itself is excellent: glass-walled, brightly-lit and with neat little cubicles for the staff. There must have been more than three hundred applicants the day that I went; but even by late afternoon, the guards outside were still remarkably polite and patient with everyone. Suffice it to say that this is not always the case in all government offices.


It could not have been fun for those who came from far, however; and, indeed, I was hearing from people themselves that there were those who came from as far as Quezon and Mindoro. Fortunately, the DFA staff was very pleasant compared to other government offices where the staff can be rude or testy even during the best of days.
The innovation of going into malls, however, can be laid to waste if the systems in place do not quite jive with the ambience, which is excellent inside but something of a market outside. In fairness, there were benches considerately laid out for applicants to sit upon while waiting.

There are just five steps to get a passport. I got my number at 10:00 a.m.; and even that early I was handed number 180 of the day’s quota of 300. I did not get my data encoded, my picture taken and my thumbprints biometrically recorded until almost five in the afternoon.

From the wait time alone, i.e. for a mere five-step procedure to take that long, one can already draw the conclusion that the process can still be improved. Note that I was renewing a passport; not acquiring one for the first time. I did not see, however, that the process was significantly different for one and the other.

The way my own application actually went, the procedure went something like this:
  1. Get numbered application form from guard. Fill out application form.
  2. Go to the holding area. Wait for your form number to be called.
  3. When your number is called, proceed inside and submit your filled-out application form with the required documents at the information desk.
  4. Wait outside to be called again.
  5. When your name is called, take your checked form and documents and proceed to the assessment window for assessment of your fees.
  6. Proceed to the cashier’s window and pay the assessed fees.
  7. Wait outside for your form number to be called.
  8. When called, proceed inside for passport officers to encode your data, take your picture and biometrically collect your thumb prints.
  9. You have the option of having your passport delivered by parcel service or return on an assigned date.
Logically, once the process has been started, an applicant moves from a point to the next in a linear procedure. If one removes the waiting outside from the preceding procedure, it is actually reduced to five from the time an application form is issued to when the data is encoded into the DFA’s database.

The continuous going in and out of the office helped to give an atmosphere of barely controlled mayhem. It was also confusing, which meant that DFA staff was being continually harried by applicants asking questions.

A few simple tweaks can vastly improve the system. First, a mimeographed sheet explaining the entire procedure may be distributed along with the application form; perhaps an LCD screen in lieu of paper. I felt sorry for the guards and staff because they had to answer the same questions over and over from people all day long.

Next, a number indicator similar to what they have in banks. This way, applicants can monitor the count and go elsewhere for the meantime if their numbers are still way off.

For instance, between the first and second steps, I was able to sneak away for lunch, pay the electric bill and have the battery of my watch replaced. Between paying my fees and being called in for encoding, I was able to watch the movie Dredd.

Just a word of warning to those who sneak off: when I went off to watch a movie, the number for encoding was only at 60; and it was a little past two in the afternoon. I figured that if it took four hours to get to 60, there was a chance I would have to return the next day.

Two and a half hours later, when I checked with the guard, I was pleasantly surprised that the number for encoding was already at 174. I could easily have missed my cue. It was obvious that the processing speeded up because many whose numbers were called but were not there had either left or had been were passed over.

A separate queue for renewals will also be considerate. Obviously, the documents to be checked will not be as many as those who are first-time applicants.

Of course, there was every probability that I just went on a bad day. When I passed by the office last week, I did not think that the number waiting outside was all that bad. Frankly, I did not mind the waiting since I had nothing to do; and I was even able to watch a movie.

It could not have been fun for those who came from far, however; and, indeed, I was hearing from people themselves that there were those who came from as far as Quezon and Mindoro. Fortunately, the DFA staff was very pleasant compared to other government offices where the staff can be rude or testy even during the best of days.











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