I rarely ask for help via Facebook. I'm usually more comfortable directly messaging close friends or family for inquiries or if I need any recommendations. However, my recent saga to renew my Philippine Passport was so frustrating that it resulted to this semi-rant which I try to avoid doing on social media.
Apparently, this situation is all too familiar to many Filipinos based on the responses I got. If my memory serves me right, the system in the past allows walk-ins at the Department of Foreign Affair (DFA's) main office along Roxas Boulevard. I used to pass by that building almost every day during college and there were long lines all the time. My parents said you have to line up as early as 5 or 6 in the morning to make it to the day's cut off. Luckily, when I applied for my first passport in 2008, they had the satellite programme in selected malls. I had to queue at SM Manila, but it wasn't too bad.
When I had to renew in 2013, the online appointment system was already established, which was an excellent idea! Except for the fact that many Filipinos especially the elderly are still not internet savvy, I still thought it was progressive and necessary. I remember booking an appointment for me and my mom without any problem, this time at DFA-South branch, located on the 4th level of Metro Town Center in Alabang, Muntinlupa.
However, my recent experience booking an appointment wasn't too pleasant. For one, there were no available slots until end of June, and July onward were not even available. I tried booking an appointment at practically every province in the drop down list but only found one available slot - in LA UNION.
From the comments and discussions I had after my Facebook post, we seem to have only 3 legitimate options:
1. Get an appointment at any DFA office available and turn it into a holiday. Which is perfectly fine if you don't have a job, and fare and accommodation come free, but they don't.
2. Wait for slots to open, which they say happens from time to time. No guarantees. Maybe pray for luck?
3. Exercise your right to the courtesy lane as an OFW, PWD or Senior Citizens and Minors. If you fall under those categories, you can walk in but be really early as they have a cut-off number of transactions per day. According to the staff at DFA South, their capacity is only 50 per day.
4. This is not a legitimate option and I'm not advocating this by any means, but I heard that you can "buy" slots from fixers. Please don't even dare.
Luckily, my passport only expires in December, which bought me a bit of time to wait. Two weeks after, I received messages from friends and concerned individuals (how powerful social media is!), advising me to log in quickly because DFA just opened new slots. It was at 2AM. Had I been working on a fixed day job like the majority, I probably would have been asleep and missed the train again. I was thankful but there has to be a better way than making people standby till wee hours in the morning!
Anyways, that's the back story. I promised myself to write this post after my saga with hope that it can help someone in the same situation. So let's move on to the more helpful part, shall we?
HOW TO BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT ONLINE
1. Schedule your appointment online at https://www.passport.gov.ph/appointment . To be fair, it's very easy to navigate and information, terms and conditions are clearly stated. You can book as family or individual and there's no fees to do so. Aside from the availability issues, the process of booking an appointment is very straightforward. You just have to choose a date and location and fill in your personal details which will automatically populate in the application form.
2. Once you've successfully set an appointment, you will receive a confirmation email which you have to print and show onsite. Please note that Yahoo! and Gmail are recommended, and always check your spam or junk folder.
3. After you secured your appointment and received the confirmation email, it's time to prepare the required documents.
LIST OF REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW APPLICATIONS (Adult)
LIST OF REQUIREMENTS FOR RENEWAL (Adult)
Remember that they may ask for supporting document for special cases. Please check further by clicking HERE for new application, and HERE for renewal.
It's also important to note that Birth Certificates need to be authenticated by Philippine Statistics Authority or PSA (used to be known as NSO) and carry a validity date too. I ordered mine online through the PSA's E-Census, paid PHP330 through one of the accredited payment centers, and waited for delivery after 3-4 working days.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR APPOINTMENT
1. Arrive no earlier than 30 minutes before your schedule. This helps DFA manage the flow of people so please cooperate. There are chairs lined up at the hall outside the office divided by time markers. Waiting time can be between 30-60 minutes depending on volume of applicants. DFA doesn't entertain late comers either.
2. The guards/staff will inform you when it's your turn to enter the office. They only allow 10-15 people at a time. First stop is the validation counter where you have to present your printed appointment page. Once validated, you can proceed inside the office and start with step 1 where they will check your documents. It was a long queue but applicants who were just renewing their passports were led to a side table which serves as an express counter since first time applicants get screened for a longer time.
3. Once done, you can proceed to the cashier for payment. Regular processing is PHP950 which takes 15-20 working days, while an expedited one costs PHP1,200 for only 7-10 working days. You can also choose to pick up your new passport or have it couriered to your home for an additional fee.
4. Once paid, you will have to again queue for encoding and photo. No accessories, glasses or colored contact lenses allowed. No smiling either!
5. The last step is the payment for the courier service, should you opt for delivery. It costs PHP150 if I remember it correctly. I decided to just pick up mine and I was able to get it in 10 minutes with no hassle.
The whole process took me 2.5 hours, and the longest wait was at the encoding section. The staff were generally helpful and courteous, and the lady who processed my application even put an earlier pick up date even if I only paid for regular processing. I was able to get mine after only 9 working days and I'm happy with that. Being kind and smiling to customer service people has its perks!
GOOD TO REMEMBER
Renew your passport at least 6 months before its expiration date to avoid any problems when you travel, and remember that while your new passport is still being processed, you can still use your current one as long as it's still valid. You can just request that they cancel your old one (where they literally punch a whole on the info page) once you pick up your new passport.
Overall, I still feel there's much to be improved in terms of waiting time, and especially about the volume of applicants vis-a-vis the availability of appointments. The demand obviously needs to be managed better, but I fully support the appointment system as it's more organized if implemented well.
If there's one thing I rejoice about, it's the fact that I won't have to do this again in the next decade as all new passports issued from January 2018 now come with a 10-year validity.
I sure hope it will get better, more efficient, and maybe paperless by then!