Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How to Prepare for Passport Renwals And Embassy Visits

U.S. passports of course have expiration dates. So if you hold this document, there will come a time when you must renew it. If you live abroad, this procedure will differ from country to country depending on the dictates of the local U.S.embassy in the land  where you happen to reside.  For those Americans in the Philippines, here is a link to the steps you must take in order to fulfill the requirements for passport renewals as set forth by the local embassy .  As you can see,  a trip to that office must be made to pay the renewal fee. Interestingly, when my wife renewed her passport a few years, she was able to conveniently complete the entire process by courier, including the remittance.So American embassy rules may not only differ by locale, but from one time period to another within the same country.

The American embassy here is a sprawling complex located in Manila on Roxas Blvd near the corner of United Nations Avenue. Lines both for Filipinos who are applying for  visas to enter the U.S. and for American citizens conducting business with U.S. Citizen Services begin forming around 6:00 a.m. So unless you have an appointment for your transaction,  try to arrive there around that time.

When I went to the embassy cashier's office (which opens at  7:30--no appointments required) last week to pay for my passport renewal, it was only my second time that I'd been to the embassy in the nine years I've lived in the Philippines. So  I forgot to include  that "early bird" factor in my itinerary  and thought that by leaving home around 6:00  that I would beat the crowd. No such luck. Traffic was heavy, and when I arrived at 7:15, the U.S. citizens service was already packed with a long queue waiting to enter.  So it took almost an hour  (including being processed at the security  check point) before I reached the cashier section and about another 20 minutes of waiting time in that department before I was served. The payment process itself took about 10 minutes. According to the cashier, my new passport will be delivered in about two weeks.

BTW if you will be required to present personal identification for your dealings at the embassy, bring along two sets as you will be required to leave one of them with  the security checkpoint before entering the main building. Any bags you're carrying will be carefully inspected.  You must also surrender your mobile phone and other electronic equipment that you've brought along. So be sure to advise any important contacts ahead of time that you will be out of touch with them possibly for a couple hours..

One thing that the Philippines and the U.S. have in common is that dealing with government offices can be a frustrating experience. I hope that these guidelines will help simplify your passport renewal chores and  embassy encounter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Disappearing Act

In a country like the Philippines from which many citizens are eager to emigrate or at least work abroad due to the difficult economic conditions here, it seems paradoxical that the Philippines would have a problem with a presence of illegal aliens. Yet according to the Bureau of Immigration, there are approximately one million  such immigrants residing here.

But unlike in the U.S. where the majority of illegals, mainly from Mexico and Central America, enter the country by sneaking across the border, most of the foreigners who don't belong in the Philippines usually enter  legally with tourists visas, but then overstay the expiration dates of these documents, and then never make an effort to correct the matter. This is the mirror image of their Filipino counterparts in the U. S  who become illegals in the U.S.the same way and are known there  by other Filipinos as TNT's, a Tagalog acronym for "tago ng tago", which loosely means "constantly hiding".

In an effort to root out immigrant over-stayers,  the Bureau of Immigration has launched an outreach campaign called the Alien Registration Program., which offers an opportunity for amnesty from deportation to those undocumented aliens who voluntarily come out of hiding and report to the immigration authorities.  However, contrary to the indication in the  ARP public notice, I didn't find a registration form on the BI website, but  if you would like more information  about this program, click here to see the official guidelines thereof. You can also get information by phoning the Bureau of  Immigration at (02) 465-2400 locals 444 and 447.

In short, if your only immigration problem here is an expired visa, the Alien Registration Program may be a way to resolve that issue. once and for all. Also consider the alternative: If the BI ever unexpectedly discovers your status  and accordingly takes legal action against you,  that can lead to a lot more complicated outcome.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Wake Up Call From Mario

Almost every year during the wet season in the Philippines (officially Junethrough Sept) there's at least one major non-typhoon tropical storm in Metro-Manila that is so intense that it causes extreme flooding and resulting disruption of  normal  activities, not to mention loss of lives and widespread property damage. Beginning  the evening of Sept. 18th  one such meteorological event,  "Mario" (international name Fung-Wong) hit the National Capital Region and continued nonstop into the next night. Not surprisingly, once again MM was caught unprepared, despite endless official talk long beforehand of various plans to prevent or at least mitigate such havoc but which always comes to nothing.  Ten people were killed in the storm.. Reservoir dams were placed on high alert.  And of course normal civic operations came to a  standstill.    This  shut down of most government and commercial functions and the jeopardy to the city's water system. is an example of what happens when the authorities fail to make adequate preparations for a natural disaster.

As expats and retirees, my wife Lydia and I are fortunate that we don't have the same ongoing commuting obligations as the working people and others here in the Philippines, especially in Metro-Manila. This is not to say that we are recluses and have no interactions with the world outside our condo. Naturally, there are family and friends to visit, errands to run, appointments to keep, all of which  can be difficult enough to meet in bad weather just once in a while, let alone on a daily basis. But woe unto those who have to earn a living and must struggle every day to get to and from their jobs which itself is a difficult task even in the best weather.  This is due to monumental traffic jams resulting from such factors as  too many vehicles on the road, an overtaxed public transportation system,  and lack of road discipline. How much more miserable under extreme weather conditions.

The deluge was reminiscent  of a similar prolonged tropical storm (although shorter in duration) named "Ondoy" in 2009 which also flooded  the region including part of Eastwood City where Lydia and I reside. That time I was out and about and got stranded just a few kilometers away from home to which it then took several hours to arrive. Will the damage from Mario turn out to be even worse than Ondoy? if so,  it may be the final straw in the government's inaction in addressing such chaos. Yet on the other hand. as Lydia astutely pointed out to me, Filipinos have a short memory when it comes to these disruptions; and after a while public furor dies down.

The Philippine Congress has been considering whether to grant emergency powers to President Aquino which would give him extreme legal latitude in short-cutting the political process in order to address a looming electric power shortage that is expected to occur in 2015. IMHO, similar powers should likewise be granted to the President to deal with both the storm preparedness  delay issue and the interrelated traffic crisis that continue to plague the region and are only getting worse as time passes.

This time the people mustn't forget and let the matter pass.  If corrective measures aren't taken very soon, another prolonged downpour like the one that we just experienced could be catastrophic.. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some Observations On Consumer Credit In The Philippines

Before retiring, I worked for most of my career in the U.S. as an  accounts receivable / credit and collections specialist. Decisions in which I participated regarding credit granting and collections were heavily influenced by credit bureau reports. And although I'm no longer involved in such matters in order to earn a living, I still try to stay abreast with events in the national economy both in the U.S. and the Philippines.  I've observed for example that the role of banks in consumer lending in the Philippines, especially to the growing the middle class has become far reaching. One such area is credit cards which as a finance tool is often high risk, as they are usually  not backed by any collateral.   Inasmuch as there's no credit bureau operating in this country at present, I've wondered how in the absence of such a data source, financial institutions here determine creditworthiness of credit card applicants, not just for Filipinos, but also for foreigners who are even less likely to have local  credit histories or references.

According to a reliable source in the finance industry here, a very important consideration is the applicant's relationship with the bank, regardless of his or her nationality.  This includes such criteria  as  the length of time that the customer has had a savings and /or checking accountand the size of balance that (s)he has carriedwith that institution. And  even though the party may not have a credit history (and therefore references) from another bank,  if these other conditions  are favorable, bank managers may endorse the applicant for a card in order to also meet their marketing quotas.

Another basis for granting credit is one that is very much in tune with Philippine culture: patronage. If  an account holder has a good business relationship with the bank or close ties to the manager, and  based on that client's assurance of  another individual's good character and ability to pay his/her debts, the manager may endorse the third party for a card. (As an aside, I  personally know of situations where patronage has facilitated certain banking transactions.  The customers' requests were completely aboveboard, but due to various "official" bank restrictions  and requirements that the clients didn't meet, they would have had a difficult if not impossible time completing these transactions without an inside connection to go to bat for them). Finally,  sometimes just to meet their sales quota, managers themselves will even solicit those clients who have not expressed interest in a credit card into applying for one anyway.

Fortunately, a credit bureau is scheduled to begin operations in the Philippines in 2015. I believe that when that happens,  it will be a significant step forward in the rationalization of  credit granting by local lenders in determining  consumers' and business' reliability based on their finance track records and in turn, facilitating the reporting of their pay habits in the repayment of  their debts to other prospective creditors. Also, a credit bureau will likely become  become an important source of information to lenders for locating debtors who have skipped out on their financial obligations.  IMO all these components will bring about more sensible and objective credit granting policies by financial institutions, which as a result  will ultimately benefit both lenders and borrowers alike.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Just For The Record

There will almost certainly come a time in your life when you need to obtain an official copy of a vital statistics record that documents an event in your personal history, such as birth, marriage, or divorce, or for a  death certificate of a family member such as a spouse or parent. If you reside in the locale where the occasion in question took place, it may just require a trip to city hall or the county seat to get this document. But if you live outside that area, such as in another state,obviously it's not going to be so convenient. And if you live outside the U.S., as is the case with American expatriates, accessing these files from abroad can be a real challenge. However,  as you will see, there is a solution.

When my wife Lydia was applying  to regain her Philippine citizenship  for dual citizenship status and thought that she had completed all the steps to the reacquisition shuffle, out of the blue the Philippines Bureau of Immigration, decided to request a copy of our marriage certificate. We didn't think we still had it at hand as we were married 43 years ago, but after some digging we managed to find it. Our other concern was that since our marriage took place outside the Philippines that we might have to have our certificate validated locally, and whether or not that was possible. As it turns out, our worries about the latter  were for naught. And a few weeks after we submitted a copy of this paper (by email attachment), Lydia received her dual citizenship certificate. 

Nevertheless, that episode got me to thinking. Suppose the BI had asked her to submit the marriage certificate itself rather than just an emailed attachment. That would have meant surrendering our only record on hand that verifies our marriage. So at that point I decided to try to get another official copy of this form in the event that for whatever reason and to whomever  we are required to submit it. That way we would still have an authorized duplicate for own records.

We were married in Los Angeles, California. So I went on line to find out how to obtain the certificate. I googled my request and was directed to the Los Angeles County Clerk Registrar-Recorder website which furnished instructions about obtaining that form. But I had a few concerns that needed addressing before I could send in my order. One of them concerned  the recorded message instructions for the requester to furnish a self addressed stamped envelope along with the order. Where the hell am I going to get U.S. postage stamps in the Philippines?. The other issue was that the  required identification to be included with the request was a photocopy of a  California driver's license, which I no longer hold. So I phoned the LACCRR, and went through numerous prompts to reach a customer service representative. Alas,  I was never able to get through to speak with one despite making  about three attempts and waiting in queue for approximately an hour each time. What was I going to do?

It so happens that accompanying the LACCRR website, there was link to a private company called Vitalchek.com .  This  is a service that searches for and furnishes vital statistics records to the requester in a more streamlined manner than that provided by  the government offices themselves, such as a  faster turnaround.  As a result the fee charged  by Vitalchek  is more than the $15.00 assessed by  Los Angeles County . On the other hand, Vitachek accepts other forms of identification from the requester (including passport), and once they obtain the record from the government office in question, they then  forward it to the customer via UPS;  so no SASE or a driver's license worries.

Is Vitalchek an honest and  reliable organization? Well,when I googled their background, I found that the company did have a previous run-in with the Better Business Bureau over advertising and service issues. As a result, Vitalchek made some changes in its operations including its website, which I found very easy to use. So I took a chance and  placed my request for our  marriage certificate through them. I received my order in about  2 1/2 weeks. This is in stark contrast to the LACCRR which estimates a six-week waiting period for order fulfillment.. The cost for Vitalchek's services including the international UPS delivery of my document was $58.00 USD*. So I think that was a pretty good deal. And now that I know I have a source to look to for such important personal files, it makes my life as an expat a little easier.

*The cost of an order may vary depending on the quantity of documents requested and their accessibility.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Perspecitve on Gun Violence in the Philppines

In my other blog site "Towards a Rational America and an Enlightened Judaism", I recently wrote a post titled "Confronting America's Gun Obsession" in which I discussed the widespread  fixation in the U.S. on firearms and their associated violence.  The Philippines is also plagued with violence, and gun deaths are all too common here as well.  In fact while the actual rate of gun ownership in this country is less than in the U.S. (which is the highest in the world), the  homicide rate by firearms percent per 100,000 of  the population in the Philippines is 8.93 vs. 4.7 in the U.S.

Just open the local newspapers  and you will read of the numerous gun-related killings that take place daily,  especially in Metro-Manila.  As the above stats show, the percentage of such incidents far exceeds those in the U.S.   However, my impression is that there is a qualitative difference between the two countries when it comes to the type of culture that generates these shootings  in the first place. For example, as opposed to the imprecise wording of the U.S. Constitution about the  individual's so-called "right to bear arms, (the interpretation of which is often heatedly debated by Americans)  this right is clearly  limited in the Philippines: It's not  even constitutionally affirmed at all. And actually gun registration laws are strict (in theory anyway.  Due to corruption among officials and irresponsibility among the citizenry,  meaningful enforcement and compliance are  another matter.)

Another difference is that the usual choice of weapons for individuals here is handguns rather than assault weapons often favored in the U.S. Perhaps the latter are too expensive for the average individual to be able to afford in this third-world country.

Also in the Philippines unlike in the U.S.  where gun ownership is considered by many people as almost  a sacred  religion, there is no gun lobby or powerful pro-gun organization like the National Rifle Association along with its inordinate political power. Rather, the local preoccupations with guns  is likely the result of the machismo tradition handed down from the Spanish colonization period which lasted over 300 years and left an indelible mark on society.  This same type of attachment to such weaponry is also reflected in the culture of  Latin American countries which of course are also former colonies of Spain. However, to the extent that gun possession  here and in those other countries is considered a means of personal empowerment,  it's likely also a means of compensation for feelings of personal inadequacy, as may  well also be the case for gun fanatics in the U.S.

My other observation about gun violence here is that while many of these killings are randomly directed at strangers, such as in the commission another crime (e.g. robbery),  it seems that more of them are targeted  at those who are known to the attacker, including acquaintances, friends, and family members. The motive is often a hot-headed response to a real or imagined slight.  This oversensitivity  is usually the result of  personal narcissism which pervades the population here and is often compounded by alcohol consumption.  On the other hand, school shootings which are becoming increasingly common in America are almost unheard of in the Philippines.

But cold blooded murder is also common in this country, the targets for which are often politicians and journalists . The actual planners of these homicides don't have to dirty their hands by committing the act themselves. Hired killers are easy to come by and work cheap, a term which also describes  the overall regard in the Philippines for human life outside of one's family or circle of interest. Hence, taking the life of the "other" must be easy for these masterminds and hit men if they don't consider the victim as another person anyway.

As in any country, the roots of national character run deep in the Philippines. So it would take a sea change in society's mentality to overcome the destructiveness  that reigns in  this culture. And this behavior can only cease if the people  finally learn to respect each other as fellow human beings and to turn away from the love of violence, including  the  weapons that perpetuate it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Choreography of Reacquiring Philippine Citizenship

When my wife Lydia regained her Philippine citizenship last week. she had a motivation in doing so that I wasn't aware of:  an end to the alienation that she had felt in living here for nine years without the full empowerment that comes with the privilege of being a full member of the society in which she was born and raised.  So in taking this step Lydia not only helped to resolve my visa issue, but she regained the rights that accompany citizenship and, equally important, peace of mind.  

As I mentioned in my last post, reacquisition of Philippine citizenship and thus becoming a dual citizen in the process is on the whole not a difficult procedure and may take only one trip to the Bureau of Immigration to complete. But applicants have to make sure that they dot their i's and cross their t's. And as in any instance in dealing with a government office, "expect the unexpected".   For example, Lydia originally completed the application form  for reacquisition  of citizenship (BI Form MCL-08-01)  that she picked up from the BI in March. She properly completed it at home,  had it notarized as required, and presented it along with the necessary supporting documents to Immigration for approval on April 23, only to be informed that the application form  had been revised in the meantime.. So she would have to fill out a new app, (BI Form 2014 01 005 Rev 0) (legal size).  Further, the requisite photos of herself that she brought along were also invalid  as the requirement for their size and background color had also been changed.  The other problem was with one of her supporting docs: proof of her naturalization by a foreign government: The BI officer who reviewed her papers deemed it to be inadequate. Fortunately, Lydia was able to correct all these problems during that one visit.  But it was very stressful to be blindsided this way. 

So for those interested in regaining their Philippine citizenship, in addition to the above  Bureau of Immigration form, click here for the latest list of necessary supporting docs. Once you've finished the paperwork, assembled the file, and are ready to bring it to the BI in Intramuros, Manila, here is the "dance" you will likely have to do on arrival. I call it the "reacquisition shuffle:" But first a reminder: In almost any dealings with the BI, it's essential that you arrive there early in the day, preferably before 7:00 a.m. You snooze, you lose.

Present your completed file to the  Public Information Assistance Unit which is located on the first floor directly across from the building entrance. An agent there will scan your papers to ensure that you have the right forms. You can also pick up blank forms there as well.

Proceed to Window 14 where your application and supporting documents will be examined in depth.

If all is in order, you will be sent to the legal department on the 4th floor where a Bureau of Immigration attorney will administer the oath-taking.

After the oath-taking, return to Window 14 where the clerk will check your file for the attorney's endorsement.

Proceed to Window 15  where  your file will be reviewed for final approval.

After this authorization, go to the cashier at Window 21 and pay the P3,010 fee (ouch!)

Return to  Window 15  and  present  your  receipt for proof of payment.

You will then be directed to the "Air 21" Desk (not to be confused with the BI Cashier Window 21) where you will  pay a P100.00 delivery fee. The clerk will hand you a receipt with a tracking number and a delivery bag bearing your name and address. This is the envelope in which your approval for dual citizenship  will be sent to you within 30 days.

Take this envelope back to Window 15 and give it to the clerk. This is the final step in the "acquisition shuffle". Take a bow for your performance. You've earned it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

How My Visa Woes Were Finaly Solved

In my January 19. 2014 post "My Annual Report: Filing: An Unexpected Twist" I mentioned  the Philippines Bureau of Immigration's findings that my permanent residence visa was incorrect. The type that I should have been issued  when I originally applied in 2005 at the Los Angeles Philippine Consulate for approval to live in this country was a "13g". This visa is given to an applicant whose spouse is a former Philippine citizen, which was my wife Lydia's status at that time. Instead, that office mistakenly issued me a "13a" visa,  which is for an alien  whose spouse is a current Philippine citizen. Now, at the time I didn't know the difference, and moreover it wasn't really my responsibility to be aware of this distinction anyway. As far as I was concerned, I had completed the application that I was given accurately and in good faith, paid the fee, and got my clearance to reside  here.  And that should have been that. 

I have held this visa for over 8 years.  During this time I have conducted various transactions with the BI such as annual reports (yearly alien registrations); an application for and receipt of an I-card (the Philippine counterpart of an U.S.  green card)  along with its replacement when the original expired; and an exit from and reentry into the Philippines.. Not once in all these years did an Immigration official notice any discrepancy in my visa.  It was only at this year's annual report filing (which was more thorough than those in the past), that the examining officer caught the error.

And as I mentioned in "An Unexpected Twist" after  I followed up on the matter with the Bureau of Immigration visa section, I was led to believe that I might be off the hook and wouldn't need to take any further action. This was a relief. because in accordance with BI rules, changing my visa classification would likely have resulted in a downgrade of my status to that of a non-permanent resident  and an imposition of a P5,000 fee to upgrade it again, even though the necessity of making this change was not my fault but that of the Philippine government.

As it turns out, however, the issue at that point was far from settled. After going through various channels including the BI  executive office,  my case finally wound up in the legal department.  At that point I was informed  that I would have to present myself to an attorney in that division   When I learned of this disposition, I became extremely concerned as I had heard tales of irregularities about that office. But the lawyer who interviewed me was quite helpful. His advice was that the simplest way to solve my visa problem was for Lydia to reacquire her Philippine citizenship. In doing so, her status would be retroactive and would thus legitimize my 13a visa status. Further, this step would benefit her as well.  She would  then be eligible to vote in political elections here and enjoy other perks that Philippine citizenship confers.

However, ever since Lydia had become naturalized in the States several years ago, she was leery about taking any actions that could jeopardize her American citizenship. But as it turns out, the U.S. has accepted dual citizenship for several decades, and many Filipinos hold both U.S. and Philippine passports. Her other concern was that regaining her Philippine citizenship might be a big bureaucratic hassle. The BI attorney explained that this is now a fairly simple process involving a two-page form along with a few other minor requirements and usually only one appearance at Immigration. Thus he convinced her on the matter,. On  April 23, the process  was completed, and she is now a dual citizen. Needless to say it was a big relief for both of us to have this task out of the way and to know that my visa status is finally in compliance. I am very grateful to Lydia for making this happen, especially in light of the frustrations that she encountered  to regain her citizenship and which I will narrate in a future post.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

An Evaluation of Local Medical Care

I recently had  cataract surgery on both eyes and as a result, I no longer need corrective lenses except for reading.  After many decades of wearing eye glasses, it's a strange sensation to be able to see well this way. When I wash  or go to bed, through force of habit my hands still automatically reach to remove eye-wear that is no longer there.

The  cataract procedure itself is somewhat uncomfortable but takes only about 20 minutes and is done on an outpatient basis. Nevertheless, it is surgery; and as such it's still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it was performed at an eye center in a shopping mall. Alternatively, my ophthalmologist who is one of the best I ever had,  also has a practice at a well-known hospital here in Metro-Manila, and I could have opted for it to be done there instead. But in many ways, the former was more expedient. 

Importantly, the cost of the operation which came to about $1,200 per eye including the artificial lens was about one-third of what I was likely to be charged  in the U.S. for the same package of services.  True, at my age I probably would have been covered by Medicare, but that health care plan is not available for Americans living abroad.  On the other hand, I do have Philhealth and a private insurance plan that I expect will reimburse me for most of  my out of pocket expenses. 

Back in 2008 I wrote a post that discussed how various countries in this part of the world, including the Philippine, offer good medical care at less expensive rates than in the U.S.  Since that time, I have consulted a number of local physicians and have had state of the art evaluation tests and treatments at medical centers here for various conditions and ailments (ah, the joys of aging). On the whole,  I can say that my overall experience has been positive, and I am convinced that Philippines does indeed have the potential to make a name for itself as center for medical tourism. It may be just a matter of time before this country receives that recognition.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tragic Bus

As I have noted in previous posts, traffic in the Philippines if often a nightmare due to the recklessness and poor upkeep of public utility vehicles which include passenger jeeps and buses. In December, a bus fell off the Skyway, an elevated  roadway in Metro-Manila killing several passengers and the driver. The vehicle was speeding on bald tires causing it to hydroplane on wet pavement,  lose control, and flip over a guard rail crushing a van on the street below. Then this month, a bus  with switched license plates traveling in the northern part of the country fell off a mountain road into a ravine. Several passengers, including two foreigners, died in this tragedy which was evidently caused by mechanical failure.

And while not an "accident" as such, in 2010 a sightseeing  bus in Manila carrying Chinese  tourists  was hijacked by a lone gunman, a former police officer.  Several people died in the rescue attempt that was grossly mishandled, e.g. the failure of authorities on the scene failing to prevent bystanders from entering  the crime scene area while law enforcement personnel  were trying to get the hijacker to surrender, and immediately after the shootout  When the SWAT team finally stormed the bus to save the hostages, their attempt was disastrously haphazard and disorganized. This sowed only more confusion and delay during which time the gunman killed several passengers before he was finally shot and killed by police snipers.  The Philippine government paid damages to the victims' families but through now has refused the Chinese government's request for a formal apology on the basis that the gunman committed the crime as a private individual, not as an agent of the Philippine government. 

What all these bus incidents have in common is that they were the result of official ineptness The first two could have been prevented by closer supervision from the government agency,  the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, that grants the approval for businesses to operate public utility vehicles.  The LTFRB finally took punitive action against the Don Mariano Transit and the Florida Transport lines that were involved in the respective accidents after the fact. But for the victims by then of course it was too late.

In  the case of the hostage event, the Manila Police Department should have dealt with the crisis  in a more disciplined and professional manner with better trained personnel.  I formerly believed that the Philippine government  should not accept fault for incident on the above stated reasoning. However, after reflecting on the degree to which an official  agency lost and control and bungled ending the siege, perhaps an apology to China is in order after all. Similarly, anytime that tourists  in this country wind up as victims of harm or violence that is the result of civil authorities' negligence or inaction, the Philippines should pay damage their families and issue a public apology to the governments of the visitors' countries of origin as well. The international negative publicity  that repeated incidents of this nature generate may  discourage would-be visitors from this country. If that happens  to the point that such disregard by the Philippines for safety and human life while  tolerated locally is negatively impacting  foreign investment and tourism, that may be enough to  spur the  government to finally to take corrective measures in this area.Click here to see the reaction of one such foreigner whose father in law died in the Skyway accident.

The official Department of Tourism for attracting visitors here is "It's More Fun in the Philippines". But how much "fun" can it be for foreigners and their families if they come home in a coffin?  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Annual Report Filing: An Unexpected Twist

My wife Lydia and I arrived at the Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday at about 6:40 a.m. and there were already  several people ahead of us. The doors opened promptly at 7a.m. By then the queue of course was longer. At about that time a security guard directed annual report filers to the guidance area for help in completing their forms. That's where we should have gone right away, but due to miscommunicated instructions, we thought we didn't have to do so because we had already filled out our papers. 

But once we finally got properly situated in the AR interview area, it took about an hour including waiting time, which might have been less had we gone to that section immediately. Actually, it took even longer for us to assemble and photocopy the required supporting docs (I-card and passport validation page copies, etc)  in the days before the annual report, not to mention the expenses involved, including the notary service fee of P200.00 for each of us . The good thing is that completing that package and having it ready for review before we got there saved a lot of time.

Once the examiner approves the annual report form, there  are  two more stops  to make where another examiner who gives the approved forms a quick  once-over before sending you to the cashier. After the P310 payment, you're done. Be sure to hang on to the receipt as you'll likely need that for next year's AR. 

The unwelcome surprise that I received is that the original examiner determined that there was an error in my permanent resident visa, specifically that it's supposedly the wrong kind.  However,  rather than hold me up for possibly several more hours to get the issue straightened out that day,  he logged the matter and signed off on  my annual report with the understanding that I would address the visa situation ASAP.  The strange thing is that I got the visa in 2005 but it took Immigration nine years to determine that something was amiss(?).

So I returned to the BI on Friday and proceeded to the visa section. I explained my predicament to the clerk, who  took my passport I-card, and the documents accompanying my annual review  inside the office where she evidently conferred with her supervisor.  She returned a short while later with the good news that as far as that department was concerned, there was  no discrepancy in my visa after all. This was because of a technicality that the annual report examiner hadn't considered in his status evaluation. So I sent a notice relaying that outcome  to him.

Yet  I wonder whether he will let it go at that as during the initial interview, he was very insistent in his position.  I only hope that he doesn't pursue the matter further.  The last thing that any expat needs is to get ensnarled with Immigration in a bureaucratic hassle stemming from circumstances that were not of his /her making in the first place.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The New Annual Report: Ouch!

In years past I've written posts regarding the annual report, which is a yearly registration and head tax that runs from early January to early March and  with which most aliens residing in the Philippines must comply. Until a few years ago, this used to be a complex procedure but was then revised and made more user friendly.  During this time, the only requirements  were that applicants show up at  the BI main headquarters or district offices and present their I-card, the previous year's annual report payment receipt,  a copy of their  passport validation page, and a P310 fee. Seniors were exempted from having to appear and instead were allowed to  have a 3rd party present their data and complete the filing in their behalf.  

However, effective this January, some radical changes have been  instituted by the new Bureau of Immigration commissioner that have once again made  completing the  annual report more difficult than in quite some time. The rationale behind this revamping is supposedly a need to clear out the dead wood of improper and fraudulent registrations and to modernize the BI's records.  Yet when the biometric I-card was introduced by Immigration around 2008, its  purpose was to prevent these very problems and  others which had been prevalent under the old ACR/ICR paper filing system.

Here is a list of items necessary for filers to complete the AR
  •   The 4 page form which must be filled out beforehand and notarized, complete with thumbprints.
  •   The filer's I-card plus 2 photocopies , one side of the card on the front and the other on the back         of the page..
  •   2 copies of the filer's passport validation page and date of last arrival in the Philippines page. It's         also a good idea to bring the passport itself.  If it was renewed in the Philippines, bring the expired       one as well. Annual report evaluators sometimes want additional data from this source.
  •  1 photocopy of the  visa page in your passport. Again, if the visa is in an old passport, bring it along with your new one.  
  •  Last year's annual report payment receipt.  
  •  Two 2" x 2" photos of the filer taken in the last 30 days (bring a dated receipt).
  •  Review  the form for  further information, such as instructions that are particular to the filer's particular situation
Arrive early. At the Immigration headquarters in Intramuros, Manila, the doors open at 7:00, and queues start forming around 6:30. Naturally, the later you show up, there will be more people ahead of you and the  longer the process will take. BTW Seniors are no longer exempted from appearing, but they will receive priority service.

For those who plan to execute the filing at a BI branch office, call there first to ensure that they are equipped to deal with this new procedure.  Click here for a list of Immigration branch offices and their phone numbers.

In my next post, I will discuss my personal experience in filing the new AR.