6/23/2008
Bureaucracy

I texted Sam what I called a life lesson. "Lumamon bago magpa-NBI clearance."

Sure, I know that getting one of these things is a struggle. I've been to the Las Piñas city hall and have seen a long line snaking out of one part of the complex - perhaps a disorganized one - and it's consistently stayed that way, even as lunch break beckoned. Today, I got mine, although getting it wasn't really part of the plan; I decided that since I haven't got much to do anyway, I'll just get it and strike one more thing off the list.

Thus, my breakfast didn't really hold. My most important meal of the day was composed of three toasted pieces of pan de sal and my multivitamins, and off I went to check if I can still get my SSS ID. Oversleeping doesn't do wonders.

I went in line for the NBI clearance at a quarter before twelve. I've already taken out my supposedly ubiquitous cedula as a requirement for proper identification, and within ten minutes I was station-surfing between Tracy, the girl we'll still call Tin, and Trigger-trigger-triggerman. I didn't want to leave the line, presuming that it will boost my chances of getting home early. My only weapon was a bottle of water.

Turns out that I was the thirty-first in line. Well, the line for men, at least.

Of course, we'd be the first to complain. The counters opened twenty minutes late, and the female line was moving faster, and I was stuck in the same spot - still station-surfing - for half an hour. (I don't know if we had the right to complain, considering the forever-clichéd "girls before boys" line we were taught as kids. Sorry if you're affected; no offense meant.) Turns out that some were wise enough to take lunch, and for some reason, have had their slots reserved, perhaps because they were in line during the morning and already have some sort of number. Thus, the line never moved, although we were slowly being decimated; people just squeezed themselves in.

Being the somewhat clueless new applicant, I somehow managed to chat up with the others in line. There was this one guy who was wide enough to sit after he got some sort of number. There was this guy who cajoled about us not moving an inch when the other line was going smoothly. There was this guy that did the same, only he was ahead of me. And all I had to do was, err, butt in discreetly. At least I ceased to be bored - at least until I finally took out the iPod. Yes, I did that, too, and I don't know why.

Realizing that what I have can only get me so far, I ended up, well, chick-spotting. Someone's gotta do it - admit it, you've done it in mass! I can only go as far as observing that there was a pair of sisters in line who talked about Kim Chiu with someone in my line who they happen to know. The supply of liquid was starting to run out.

The other advantage to being in line for so long, though, is that you somehow get a grip with what you should really be doing. After you show your identification, you fill up a form, submit it, get your photo taken, and wait again. The photography process was weirdly impersonal, perhaps because they were using a webcam from inside the office, while the subject remained outside, with a poorly-lit white backdrop as a marker. Might be my photography background coming out, but that's perhaps very elaborate for something like an NBI clearance.

The wait for fingerprinting is pretty much the same, only it's more disorganized. No seats, either. I actually managed to run my other requirements (and realize I can't, at least there) and grab a soda - because there wasn't any food available already - to save on my liquid supply. The other faces that got ahead of you slowly surface, as they get called inside for fingerprinting. I also managed to wonder about the fates of those who have finished the process. You either get your clearance, or you get your receipt back, because you had a "hit" - someone's got the same name as you - and you can claim in within ten working days.

You'll really have this dismayed, what-the-bleep-just-happened? look when you get the receipt rather than a clearance. Some just walk away in resignation, while others politely inquire about their fate. There was this one guy who was exasperated to know that he didn't just have to return in ten days, but even had to go to the main processing office in Carriedo to get an interview. Apparently, his "hit" had a run-in with the the law before, and it will obviously reflect in the clearance. So much for his transportation - or so he said.

Almost an hour later, I finally got called inside for fingerprinting. It's this roller thing, much like the police do, and it isn't really any shocking, aside from the fact that you have to pay ten bucks for it. (Either it's the ink, or the wet wipes that you use to clean your fingers.) Then again, there's something with the fingerprinting guy that would scare you, and the best way to describe it is in the grimaces of the person in front of you, being fingerprinted.

He'll take your fingers and get it stained with ink, and grab them one by one, and then start rolling them on your application. In quick fashion, really - thumb, index, middle, ring, pinky, thumb, all remaining - and it'd look like your fingers are being snapped out, or cracked at the very least. The woman in front of me just whispered, "awww..."

I thought I could manage that. I was watching how it was done, and I was rehearsing the rhythm in my head, complete with scenes from CSI. (Yes, The Who was even playing in my head.) When it's my turn, it all went wrong.

I was slowly growing hungrier, and I was starting to text the word lamon with more conviction. Desperate conviction, perhaps, and it's rubbing off on thirteen-year-old Sam. "Sa susunod," she said, "kung hindi lalamon, magbaon na lang ng malalamon!"

And I was actually starting to think about where to eat once I get this over with. Telly ads for restaurants start flashing in my head, only to be broken by the news that I apparently got greeted on air, and before I knew it, my name was called. I got my clearance - smudgy photograph, well-printed typography, stamp seal and all. The sun was setting, and it was getting hotter - what you'd expect after a stormy night and class suspensions - and I only had to walk out of the city hall, hail a jeepney, and get to the mall to have lunch. It was five in the afternoon.

Well, I've been there already, and somehow I contemplated not having lunch at all, eating a very hearty dinner instead at home. I ended up eating at Chowking, and predictably so, since I was yearning for a real meal. My bowl of yang chow friend rice was empty twenty minutes later, and I reflected upon my day dealing with the bureaucracy. It was perhaps marked with the way I heard Waiting Game played at precisely the right time - when the fine line between tolerable and desperate hunger was being crossed - and the moment I took a look at my clearance again, when I finally got home. Oh, all the fuss for a piece of paper that expires a year later.

And your responses...

lesson learned? :p

Anonymous sam6/24/2008     

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