Like almost all love stories, it started so well. Needs were spelled out clearly, and repeated to the point of saturation. Expectations were high, given an early showing of efficiency rare in third world government offices, coupled by the promise of things to come.
Before going to DFA, make sure that you have all the requirements exactly as specified in the DFA website, with photocopies of each document. I suggest preparing two clear plastic envelopes, one containing all the originals and one containing the photocopied documents. DFA will be getting the original documents, so if you will be needing them for other purposes, I suggest you order from the appropriate agencies beforehand. Triple check everything, as I saw several people lose their places in a very long line to photocopy a single document.
Step 1: Enter DFA premises.
At the gate, the guards will segregate you according to your appointment schedule. This I’ll say for DFA: their guards are more polite than most guards I’ve encountered in other government agencies, especially considering the volume of people they deal with every day. Arrive early or on time, as they are very strict about this. Once you are allowed inside the premises (which is how I will refer to the area inside the gate, but outside the DFA building), you are to find your place in the Line of Constant Directional Change But with No Apparent End. Congratulations.
Step 2: Have your application validated.
You will then find yourself herded to a table where a DFA agent will scan your application’s barcode. It’s pretty much like checking out at a grocery counter. This takes about a minute, unless your appointment turns out to be invalid (For example, if you were late or didn’t show up for a previous appointment without cancelling through the online service.)
Step 3: Wait in the APPROPRIATE area.
You will be then instructed to go to the waiting area (still in the premises), which is classified by appointment time. Here we hit our first relationship bump. The appropriate waiting area is not a physically or geographically defined location. The waiting area is in a constant state of motion, such that what was once the 2:30 PM waiting area would no longer be in that spot after ten to fifteen minutes. I felt like I was a tectonic plate, or at least how I imagine being a tectonic plate feels like.
There were DFA personnel and guards directing the lines, but I think there was only one man with a megaphone, and their signs were about the size of a letter document. It was a gross miscalculation of proportions.To be fair, the system did somehow work. But imagine, how faster and simpler things would be if only someone put in the effort to organize the physical arrangement of the waiting area, or at the very least, put in bigger signs and a better sound system.
Step 4: Wait some more inside the DFA building.
The Line continues, but thankfully, in a well-lit, air-conditioned hall with proper seats.
There was also a tarpaulin detailing the application process, but this was inside the hall, which was halfway to the end. The expected duration for each step is indicated, and while these are not quite legible in the photo (Manong Guard was starting to bark at people), it would be safe to say that these figures are grossly underestimated. Or in need of a disclaimer.
Step 5: Processing
This is an easy step, unless your documents are lacking, or invalid for some reason. However, in my personal experience, this provided another frustration as I specifically requested for express processing, but the clerk marked it down for regular processing. I purposely said ‘express’ instead of rush, to prevent any confusions due to alliterations. But no. He was pleasant enough though, and I guess I should have checked the request before leaving the processing counter. There you go, lesson learned.
Step 6: Pay the processing fee.
You then go up to the second floor via an escalator. Go to the right side of the escalators, and look for an overhead sign that ‘Step 2: Cashier’, or something like that. Before you pay, make sure you are charged properly. Once you’re given a receipt, there’s no varying arrangements.
Step 7: Get your encoding number.
Look for the overhead sign for ‘Step 3: Encoding’, or something like that. Follow another vaguely defined line to get a slip which states your turn for encoding and picture taking. Do NOT lose this slip.
Step 8: Wait some more.
If there are about a hundred people before your photo shoot (and there will be), you can use the time to pay the delivery fee. See step ten.
Step 9: Picture taking and final encoding.
Several monitors will show your turn (indicated by the number on the slip) and the counter assigned. Watch the monitors closely. It’s such a hassle if you miss your turn. Once your number is flashed onscree, go to the designated cubicle. A DFA agent will then encode your data and scan your documents. You will also be photographed and thumbmarked. If you haven’t paid your delivery fee yet, proceed to step ten.
The agent who processed my application (guy in gray with his back to the photo), was really nice, but I would like to particularly commend this agent (guy attending to Ate In Yellow Shirt).
I was waiting in front of his cubicle, and I noticed that he was constantly patient towards all his customers. He really made an effort to make people laugh and put them at ease. Proper customer service is not dead. Thank you.
Step 10: Pay delivery fee.
Go to the leftmost side of the room near the stairs. First, pay the delivery fee (Php 120), then get your receipt. Go to yet another line, which will be based on whether you are from NCR or not, then have the delivery data encoded. Make sure the information is correct before signing anything. If you haven’t had your data encoded/picture taken yet, do not leave DFA. Go back to step 9. Otherwise, sing your happy song.
What I expected from the online registration was so distant from the actual application process. i thought that at 2:30, I would already have been interviewed or started on processing. A process estimated to take 30 minutes to complete turned into three hours of Waiting in Line. This entry is based only on my personal experience. I do not know whether it is like this on other days. I can tolerate the humidity of hundreds and the discomfort of being sheltered from rain by flimsy canvas tents, but I don’t really appreciate losing time because of incomplete directions and inefficiencies that are easily addressable.
It is important to remember that it isn’t DFA’s fault alone. It is our responsibility as applicants to make sure our requirements are complete, to ask questions if we are uncertain, to check documents that are handed back to us, to pay attention, to not sit down when we’re supposed to be walking forward, and to be nice to the people who probably have been dealing with inane questions for months or years on end.
So, I’m just putting this out there, DFA. I have a few obsessive compulsive tendencies and a certain amount of free time. I’m willing to do FGDs for this, if you are. 🙂 While we’re way past the honeymoon stage, I think it’s better now that we have clearer expectations from one another. The challenges are manageable, I think, qualifying this relationship as a work in progress. Also, I can’t break up with you. You have my passport 🙂
Update: Another point for DFA: passport arrived on time. Thank you!