More Fun in the Philippine Embassy

It's no secret that I abhor going to our embassy here in Singapore. But as a foreign worker who wishes to go home every once in a while I have no choice but to pay it a visit at least once a year to get my Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). It's a green slip of paper that tells the immigration guys back home that there is no need for the question and answer portion because I'm an overseas worker. It also exempts me from travel tax and airport terminal fee. All for the price of five dollars and a day's worth of hypertension.

Is it Nassim Road (SG) or Project 6 (QC)?
A trip to the embassy requires intense mental preparation - I make sure I get enough sleep, I think happy thoughts, and I picture myself back home to convince myself that it's all worth it. And even then, I always end up stressed and frazzled and just a wee bit hypertensive.

So when I found myself last Thursday morning going out the gates, forty-five minutes after I arrived, clutching a huge stack of OECs with the exact same blood pressure as when I entered, I was completely dumbfounded. What just happened? Did I just finish an entire transaction with a government agency without a single speedbump?

And it's not just a single improvement, too. It's a whole collection of services that have suddenly been made more efficient. Can't quite believe it? Welcome to the club.

I thought I already hit the jackpot when I found out that Pag-ibig payments, one of the requirements, can be made online. I was all set to go to Lucky Plaza, line up for ten years, and maybe console myself with some Jollibee (nevermind that they don't serve palabok which makes me so upset), but this was such a welcome improvement.

You can visit the online payment facility here. You just need to register your Pag-ibig ID number, and there is a three point something percent service charge which I wish wasn't there as this is an additional service, but let's face it - seven pesos (assuming you make the minimum contribution of 200 Php) won't even pay for my bus fare to Lucky Plaza.

Another welcome improvement is the embassy's online appointment system. I still have issues about the embassy being closed on weekends, as well as being closed on both Philippine and Singaporean public holidays. It's just such a cop-out and it makes their services less accessible. But since service is guaranteed when you pay them a visit, less of my time is wasted.

I booked the earliest slot on Thursday morning, but decided to arrive five minutes late. Okay, so I hit the snooze button maybe ten times more than I should have. But it worked out great because by the time I got there, the whole queue outside the embassy thing and the ensuing chaos once the gates open is all done and over with.

I just went straight to the window, showed my appointment slip thing, and waited for my queue number to be called out. Since I already filled up the information sheet online, there was no rush to fill out an endless number of forms (in three copies!). When my turn was up I just handed everything to the counter person who, might I add, is not grumpy. And if you've ever spent time in any government office you would know how so refreshing this is. I told her I wanted five OECs, which is roughly the number of times I would like to go home in a year. And she goes, "Really? That's all you need for two years?"

What. Wait. Two years? "Isn't it valid for only a year?", I asked. "No it has the same validity as your employment pass", she answered. "So you mean I can have ten?!?"

And so, after a couple more minutes, they handed me a thick sheaf of green slips. "That would be thirty dollars," says the non-grumpy kuya counter person. "Eh? Isn't it five dollars each?", I blurted, my eyes probably bulging in utter disbelief. "No, now it's three." At this point I'm half-convinced this is all just a dream and when I finally wake up, I am not only late for my appointment, the embassy will also have no electricity when I get there like that one time when I was due to claim my passport.

As it turns out, I wasn't dreaming. And I do have ten OECs, lovingly printed with a dot-matrix printer which is such an excellent anti-forgery feature (let's face it, who has a dot-matrix printer on hand these days), guaranteeing me ten hassle-free trips home as far as immigration is concerned, which is kinda awesome. My only regret is that I didn't get twenty.

For the first time in a really long while, I felt maybe, just maybe, things are finally looking up.

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