My passport is expiring in 6 months so I figured it was finally time to get a new one. Excited that we finally have these new “e-passports” that are machine readable and which bring us up to “world standard” and shall facilitate processing when visiting foreign lands, I started the process some 3+ weeks ago. I turned to our travel agent to arrange the passport renewal. As with all applicants, they applied for a date for a “personal appearance or appointment” at the spanking new DFA Consular Office that processes passports located at the reclaimed area beside S&R in Baclaran. I was given a date 3 weeks later, and today, I showed up at 7:20am for an 8:00am appointment. I was met by the travel agent’s representative, given the completed and checked forms, deposit slips to show previous payment, and brought to Gate 1, where all applicants assisted by agencies line up. Here’s the first tip. Use a respectable and trustworthy travel agent that does this regularly. The lines at Gate 1 were significantly shorter than going at this yourself through the other gates. The agent simply gets you to the right door and leaves you to wait your turn while comfortably seated until the processing windows open for business at 7:30am. What follows next can only be described as a uniquely Pinoy (or simply third-world?) bureaucratic government office game of musical chairs. If filmed at fast speed for youtube, it could have been called “How to clean your waiting chairs by having hundreds of clothed butts wiping them throughout the day…”
Are Filipinos so undisciplined that we cannot simply hold a line based on chronological arrival? No? Then are we so stupid and offensive that we cannot be simply given a number when we enter the room and respond when that number is called, in chronological order? No? Why does a numbered system work at foreign embassies and consular offices, but not at our own? Why must we be herded like carabaos (I realize they are actually rarely herded, these beasts) and forced to get into strict snaking seated lines, only to have so many exceptions as to make one wonder if we are intellectually impaired to begin with? Are we genetically line impaired as well?
And why, oh why, must the lines at such government offices require “shepherds” or “humanherds” that direct you like traffic enforcers (who may have never driven a vehicle) to comply with the “you must wipe each and every seat with your clean pants” syndrome? Better yet, humanherds who utter totally inappropriate and unprofessional (if comical, that does certainly lighten the mood) comments said out loud like “paki usog lang ho, PHP8 lang tayo ngayon, kung pwede, tag-dalawang tao sa isang silya kasi napupuno na…” or loosely translated “can you please squeeze in, like a PHP8 fare (on a jeepney I gather), if possible fit two people of each seat because we are getting rather full”… egads! Thank goodness I have been on a diet, or I wouldn’t be able to share seats with the lady to my left or the nervous gentleman to my right. Good thing Pinoys are generally so meticulous about personal hygiene, so we could inevitably take whiffs of each others shampoo, soap, cologne or other personal care products while trying to maintain our dignity and cool air of nonchalance, despite the “PHP8” conditions.
Before I get to the meat of this rant, let me first say that I have taken queuing theory at some point in my schooling, and worked as a strategy consultant that occasionally did work for humongous banks with branch banks that involved a whole lot of lining up, so I do have some background in this area. I personally get annoyed when I see immigration lines, supermarket lines, payment center lines, etc. that are simply poorly designed, despite the multitude of knowledge, experience and expertise on the simple matter of managing lines. So the bottom line is, if reasonably planned, these absurd bureaucratic lines can be mitigated, avoided, managed far better than they appear to be in many cases in the Philippines. But regardless of WHERE you ARE on the planet, the one thing that messes with a system is when someone CUTS the line. It causes all manner of havoc, and it should be avoided at all costs. LINE CUTTERS are a PET PEEVE of mine.
So I am obediently waiting my turn, having wiped some 15 chairs so far with another 25 chairs to go before I have my turn at the window, when a well known television personality appears at the door and takes a seat. To his credit, the travel agent who accompanied him to the door does NOT seek special treatment. Celebrity himself sits and did NOT appear to seek special treatment. He should have been about 30 chairs behind me in line. But as soon as one or two of the humanherds noticed his presence, they immediately beckoned to him and told him to head straight to the window directly in front of me while I sat obediently in line. The attendant behind the window even loudly requested that he be the one to process the celebrity. He chatted with the guy about his show, and he was allowed to cut the line by about 45 seats. This was done in broad daylight, right in front of all of us waiting. The humanherd gave no explanation except assuming an air of smugness as the gatekeeper supreme who deemed it appropriate to let the celebrity through, no sirens at all. The celebrity was then whisked through the process and was in and out of the passport office in 20 minutes as opposed to my say 55-60 minutes.
I will say that after the celebrity jump, the humanherds then started picking out pregnant mothers, applicants with babies and elderly people out of the line to process them faster. I suspect no one else, myself included, had a problem with this. This is generally thought to be a courtesy accorded those who are burdened or handicapped somehow, but I had no idea the Philippines had included television celebrities in the list of handicapped, pregnant, with young child or elderly group. As a stark contrast to the unfolding incident, a humanherder pointed to an elderly man with much gray hair, and told him to jump line. He refused, saying he was with his family, and was content to wait in line just like everyone else. Now that’s the way to do it.
So what’s the problem?
(1) This is a government office with a charter to serve the people, under a new government that says that is a priority.
(2) Lining up and taking turns is a recognized system globally that is generally considered to be fair and efficient.
(3) Gatekeepers at government offices I am sure do NOT have in their job descriptions the right to change the rules willy nilly.
(4) While the celebrity did not seek special treatment, he didn’t TURN IT DOWN either. He had a great opportunity to display a wonderful sense of delicadeza, refuse the jump in line and follow the rules so that not only would his image be burnished, he would not annoy everyone else in line and would put the humanherder in his proper place, but he chose not to.
(5) No one, including myself, complained for fear that our own passports would be lost in the aftermath. In markets, groceries, shops or other such situations, I always call a line cutter a line cutter, and insist they move to the back of the line.
(6) If I took a photo of this guy’s rear end, barely ensconced in ill fitting skinny jeans and wickedly fashionable (yikes?) half booties and published it here or in any other form of media, he would not only be embarrassed but he would bring shame by association to the President who so publicly states the “common person” is his boss, and that no privileges such as sirens and ultimately idiotic and seemingly harmless line cutting would be tolerated from government employees, family and friends. There were enough people in that room (well over 50) who directly witnessed this incident. And frankly, it is totally irrelevant who the celebrity is, it the principle of right vs. wrong that matters. It is simply wrong to CUT INTO THE LINE.
So who is to blame? In my opinion, the filipino people are the first to blame. We have become so accepting of this type of behavior that we condone it to the point where many think it is simply not wrong. We don’t speak up when someone cuts the line, suffering in silence or worse yet, not feeling wronged at all. The most obvious person to blame in this instance is the humanherd, who in front of hundreds of people, decides to accord preferential treatment to someone who simply does not deserve it. He is NOT entitled to it in any way, shape or form. What possible logical explanation would the humanherd have for his decision to allow a cut in line? Could the celebrity have been a pregnant tansvestite and I not notice it? Was he breastfeeding a young adoptee under his long sleeved shirt? Did he just look younger than his age due to facelifts and diamond peels and he is, in fact, over 60 or 65 years of age? As for the celebrity, while he may not have sought special treatment, he didn’t turn it down either. Boo to that! A higher standard should and does apply to people of greater visibility and in the limelight. If he just thought of himself as an ordinary citizen, cognizant of other humans in the room, he would have waited. Not only would he get brownie points, he would have simply done the right thing. Sometimes appearances do matter as well.
I was amused many months ago when I wrote a post (on poverty I think, or some other politically related topic or poll) and I got a notice by email that the Malacanang Press Office was following me on Twitter. I rarely tweet, but I will certainly tweet about this post. The purpose? To remind government officials, people in “powerful positions” or with “influence” or celebrities that you need to think about your actions, lest a little teeny tiny ridiculous slip up like this one gets splashed on the internet or goes viral, and the notoriety is just not worth the 35 minutes saved by cutting the line. :)
Don’t even TRY to guess who the person was. Do not make the mistake of casting aspersions on the wrong individual. I know who he is, so do the others who were present at that office. The name is irrelevant, but the incident is certainly not. I will delete any names suggested in comments, so don’t do it. Thanks.