Sunday, May 6, 2007

Have lots of patience, a balikbayan says


By Art Pacho
Special to FilipinOnline

These days, anyone wanting to deal with Social Security must present an original birth certificate. This is very important to those who are about to retire or in need of Social Security benefits, including medicare. The change was recently adopted by Social Security as a response to homeland security issues and the hard line posture on immigration by the current U.S. administration.

How does one get a birth certificate if one is now a Filipino-American but was born in the Philippines?

It is not a simple and easy task as one would think.

In April 2007, I was in Manila for a visit. One of the things I had to do was to get birth certificates from three places for my wife, sister, brother, two brothers in-law and one sister in-law.

The assignment sounded really simple: go to a city or municipal hall and apply for the certificate.

Not so fast, buddy.

First, I was advised to start with the National Statistics Office (NSO) where I stood in line and paid 125 pesos for each application. You have to stand in line four times for four steps of the process (interview, application, payment, and release of document).

The NSO centralized all the civil registry services with the aim of automating all personal records (birth, marriage and death) in the country.

Someone advised me to go early to a provincial NSO where the lines are somewhat shorter so I went to the NSO in Tacloban where I was also visiting.

However, all I got from the NSO was a document telling me that they had no records for all the applications I made, including the two who were born in that city.

This all I got after they took my payment and my afternoon.

One is supposed to go to your own municipal or city hall, get supporting documents, and return to NSO to apply for delayed registration.

This means you have to deliver to NSO the very information that they are expected to have or should have gotten in the first place from all over the Philippines.

The next step was to go to each city hall of the birth places of the people needing the birth certificates.

Since I was in Tacloban that week I first applied for the certificate of my brother and sister at the civil registry in city hall (cost: 50 pesos per certificate).

They asked me to return in a week and since I did not have enough time, I asked my cousin to do that. My cousin later sent me the documents to Manila via a courier service.

Before that, I also went to our hometown parish church and got the baptismal certificates. Fortunately, this was easily available through the church records (cost: 100 pesos). I am hoping that these church documents would be sufficient for SSS purposes because Tacloban eventually told me they did not have the original records.

As for the other applications, I went to the City Hall of Quezon City where people were waiting in long lines, a chaotic and cramped place with some applicants sitting on broken benches.

It took me three days and three visits to Quezon City to get the certificates (cost: 40 pesos per certificate). Fortunately, the people at the counter were very cordial and helpful despite working in a crowded and almost squalid office.

I also went to the City Hall of Manila. There, the lines are a lot longer than at Quezon City but at least you are in an air conditioned place with nice and clean benches with polite attendants herding people in line, and the office looking orderly.

However, I waited for almost two hours there only to be told that I could not get what I came for because I needed authorization letters from my in-laws.

Frustrated, that same day I had an alternative, following the advice of my brother.

He said, go see the Secretary to the Manila City Mayor who is a good friend of my brother and request him for constituent help. Through his kindness he sent a note verifying my request and seeking for consideration. I went to Manila three times trying to get the certificates. The cost in Manila was 110 pesos for 1 certificate. Of course, I also spent for transportation.

I got the certificates I needed which were authenticated or certified from the original by a local government agency. The NSO certificate would have looked original since it is not a certified copy of the birth certificate.

At no time did I offer anyone extra to expedite the process (meaning no bribe). I did not hire anyone from outside to get the documents. As a tidbit, in Quiapo I spoke to someone who claimed he could get a birth certificate from NSO for 500 pesos in 1 week, just like at the fake document alley in the Alvarado area in Los Angeles.

The certificates I got in the Philippines did not cost that much in dollar terms. But you certainly have to suffer through long lines waiting to be served and returning to pick up the documents when eventually found and completed.

One person I spoke to at the Manila City Hall told me he missed his overseas job because he could not complete the birth certificate requirement on time due to an error in the form he received.

People have to suffer just to get a piece of paper: traveling from their barrios or towns to NSO or city hall, waiting in line, looking for supporting documents, and paying for the certificate.

There is no reason to require applicants to go to NSO in the first place when the documents are right in your own municipal or city hall. NSO is an extra bureaucratic layer and an attempt to centralize a local service and create a massive automated data base at the people’s expense. It is also a form of added taxation on the very people that the government has to serve.

At the local civil registry offices, searches are still done by hand shifting through dusty old records and log books.

Fees and requirements differ in each civil registry.

Here are my tips from this experience:

- Bring the right information as to the correct full name, date of birth, name of father and mother, municipality or city of birth, and exact place where born (name of hospital or home address if delivered at home).

- Remember to send a letter of authorization if requesting someone else to secure the certificate for you.

- Mention the purpose of the birth certificate, for example for retirement, claim benefits, securing a loan or whatever.

- Have a lot of free time and patience.

- For an extra fee, one can also apply online from NSO but there is no guarantee you can get the information or the certificate you need since the reply may be "no record available." You will still have to go to the local civil registrar for verification of records and endorsement of the records to NSO.

In parting, I have to ask our kababayans: How can the quality of service be improved for the Philippine civil registry? Let me hear from others their experiences and suggestions.

About the author:
Arturo Pacho just retired from the LAPD as a civilian adjutant in the Hollenbeck Area. He lives in Glendale, California with his family. He has a keen interest in public policy and administrative issues. Art recently returned from a visit to the Philippines to fulfill some errands, such as acquiring birth certificates. He does not think it is amusing that many Filipinos have to endure the indignities of going through a tangled bureaucracy just to get a piece of paper, although a very important one. Despite this experience, he firmly believes that there is a promising future for the country despite all the shortcomings at this time.

To contact Art, please e-mail and put ART PACHO on the subject line.

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