In a replay from last year, today I got ripped off on the MRT. This happened (see "A Payment, A Theft, and Update") while I was on an identical errand: traveling to the Bureau of Immigration to file my and my wife Lydia's annual report, a paperwork formality which is required every January from all non-citizen permanent residents in the Philippines.
This time I lost my wallet to a pickpocket in the crush of passengers while boarding the train at the Cubao Station in Quezon City. I thought that I was safe by carrying the billfold in my front pocket. But never underestimate the skills of the petty (and not so petty) criminals that plague Metro-Manila.
I noticed that my wallet was gone shortly after boarding, but with the little cash that I still had in my other pocket, I decided to proceed to the BI anyway and find out what I would have to do to replace our I-cards which were lost in the theft. These plastics are required for conducting any business with Immigration and must also be presented for permission to leave and re-enter the Philippines.
When I arrived at that office and just as I was explaining my plight to the supervisor(who offered to lend me P50 from her own pocket so I could get back home! To say the least, I was very touched by her kindness ), I received a message on my cell phone (which fortunately was spared in the robbery) stating that my wallet and cards (but minus the cash of course) were found by security in the MRT Santolan Station.
What a relief that was. The BI supervisor explained what my wife and I would have to go through to replace our lost I-cards, and it wasn't pretty. Among the required steps would be the placement of a notice to the public regarding the lost cards via a newspaper ad and affirmation of the loss through a notary public who must also be an attorney. There would also be various fees and forms to pay and complete.
But the hurdles were not yet over. I proceeded to the Santolan station only to find out that I was at the wrong place. There are two MRT / LRT stops with that name. I finally got to the correct location and retrieved my wallet. All my cards, including both I-cards were indeed intact. Not even my credit card was missing. The perp apparently was interested in just the cash and for some reason, our BI 2009 annual report receipts. What a nightmare it could have been to replace the various cards and documents, even though I have a list of such valuables along with their account numbers which I keep separately in a secured location (BTW that is a precaution which I recommend for everyone to take with their important documents and plastics.)
With our I-cards in hand, I returned to the BI and completed the annual report. Fortunately, I did not have to go to the back of the line of waiting applicants which by that time was quite long. Nor under the circumstances did I have to produce the missing 2009 receipts (Immigration often asks for presentation of the previous year's annual report receipt when paying the current year).
In terms of personal safety here's the lesson that I've re-learned: You can't be too careful when riding public transportation in the Philippines. First, do not carry a billfold. Take along only your personal essentials, the cash that you will need for your errand, and the documents and plastics that you intend to use. Place loose change and an emergency P20 or P50 bill in a coin purse and place it in another pocket. If you need to take a cell phone, carry a cheapie. Leave every thing else at home. Hold the pocket in which you're carrying these items from the second that you arrive at the boarding section until you have stepped clear of the vehicle departure area. If you must carry a handbag, make sure that it's small, cheap (No Louis Vuittons, please), and inconspicuous. If it has a strap, place it across your shoulder and hold on to clasp throughout the trip.
Also remember, if you're carrying someone else's documents as I was yesterday, of course you have an added responsibility. And if they are those of your spouse / partner, you will be in even deeper s**t, if you lose them. Needless to say, Lydia was not a happy camper about this incident. She had wanted me to take a taxi to the BI in the first place. I would have done so but for the fact that at that time of the morning (rush hour) there were few available taxis, and none of them would transport me from Eastwood City to Makati, the site of a satellite Immigration office. So I had to settle on one that would take me to the nearest LRT station instead. As I had discussed in a previous post, taxi drivers in Metro-Manila are selective about the distance that they will transport a passenger, regulations to the contrary notwithstanding.
Lydia and I are past the age where either of has to appear in person at Immigration to pay these yearly fees and can have an authorized agent do it for us. So next year when annual report time rolls around, maybe we'll just hire a bonded courier. I just hope the courier agent doesn't take the MRT.
For more information on the BI and the annual report, click here.