My birthday is in a little over a week, and this particular birthday is special, because it's when my driver's license expires.
All right, notable, not special. But you get the idea. That meant I had to go get it renewed. It's a bit of a faff considering all of the pandemic-related restrictions still in place, and I don't mean the whole "do everything online" thing. That should be easy enough, but the government still believes in doing things in person, at the expense of the whole "do everything online" thing they rushed into place.
Did you know that, in theory, you're supposed to be able to set an appointment for your license renewal online? That, once you've passed the (online) continuing driver's education test, you can apply for an appointment the same way you do with your passport? But the LTO website will ask for a medical certificate. Insist on one, actually, to the point that you can't progress past the first step without handing one over. But you can't just get that certificate anywhere. It has to be at an LTO-accredited clinic, meaning it has to be at one of those clinics near the license renewal centers whose sole purpose seem to be handing out slips of paper that say you're medically fit.
So, yes, you still have to be there in person. A phone call with my new city's LTO office confirms that. The woman on the other end of the line - perhaps exasperated with the many similar queries she's received - told me that I can just go to one of their offices and get a medical exam, and then proceed with my application as usual. In other words, you don't need to set an online appointment.
To the LTO's credit, the process seems to be much easier. Since they had my records on the cloud or something, I did not have to fill out a form. I only had to present my medical certificate and my expiring license, and wait for my name to be called so I can pay.
The problem was, I was planning to have my address changed. Apparently I needed to present some document that proves my current address, like a recent phone bill. Nowhere in the website did it say that I needed it. I could have it printed, but that meant going back home and going through the entire process again, so, well, I gave up. My driver's license has my old address, and it's valid for ten years.
Getting my voter registration changed is much easier. To be honest, I was holding back on that. In my head I always planned to go back home on election day to vote, even if I dreaded going through having everyone in one cramped elementary school that's totally out of my way in this era of social distancing. But then, I never thought I'd be in the flat for this long. This quarantine wasn't supposed to be this long. We were all naïve and innocent twenty-two months ago.
At least, I don't have almost forty kilometers (and pay toll both ways) to vote. I can, in theory, walk to the voting precinct. It's still a long walk, and in the middle of May it's not exactly recommended, but it's better than what I had in mind all this time.
So, out on a day-long whim, and just days before the since-extended deadline last October, Shalla and I decided to update our voter registration. There was one at the Shang, and it was early in the morning, but the lines we already long. We weren't able to print our registration forms - apparently our printer's ink tanks needed flushing - so we were in a separate, much longer line filled with people who also seemed to have decided to go there on the spot. But those folks didn't seem to know their way around the mall, and we did, so in some fluke of destiny, we ended up being first in line at the registration area proper, six floors up, where the cinemas were.
I was chatting with the woman assigned to me at the biometrics area, as I seemingly always tend to do. Perfunctory stuff, mostly, about why I'm getting my voter registration changed, mostly. I told her about moving to the flat in time for the first lockdowns, and not being able to move back since. She has the same story, more or less. She has family in Imus, and she hasn't been home for a long time. Two of us from the same province - although she lives a few kilometers further away - somehow stuck in the same city, chatting. That's a bit fantastic, isn't it?
The thing is, I don't have my voter's ID yet. I never really had my own, to be honest. The first time I registered as a voter, I only had that slip of paper where my precinct is written down. I think you're supposed to present that at the COMELEC office in your locality to get your actual card. But I lived on one end of Bacoor, and the then municipal hall was on the other end, and thirteen years ago that was one faff too many. That said, I don't think I'll get my new voter ID this time around. I already have several government IDs to my name.
I went home on Mother's Day, and my mother greeted me in tears. Our dog, Rafa, had died just minutes before we arrived.
He's a Labrador, nine years old. Relatively young by dog standards, but he had heartworm and was already showing signs of age when I said goodbye to him fourteen months before. Of course, I said goodbye thinking I would be back in a couple of weeks, or a couple of months. By then, however, it had been fourteen months, and the home I grew up in had changed. Not by much, but it had. For one, the bedroom I nominally shared with my sister had become her bedroom. We had a bunker bed, and I had the top bunk, but my father took it apart because I wasn't sleeping there anyway. How do I put it more delicately? I don't want it to look like I was kicked out - although that is a running joke - because I wasn't. I have a whole flat to myself. Well, and Shalla. You get the idea.
It was supposed to be a Mother's Day lunch with the extended family - my parents, my two siblings, the two girlfriends. Instead, we ended up running around sorting out Rafa's final moments. We had to take his body and bring it to my grandmother's place. There was an empty plot of land where our pets had been buried. I had gone through that before a couple of years ago, with another pet dog, Basha, who had died unexpectedly.
"Hinintay niya kayo," my mother said to me, as we loaded Rafa's cling-wrapped body in the back of a pick-up truck.
It was to be my first time in the back of a pick-up truck. My role, apart from making sure I don't fall off, is to keep watch over our dog, who always smothered me with licks, and who waited for me for fourteen months while I sorted out this hell we continue to live in.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there sooner," I whispered, as I stifled a tear for fear the tricycle driver behind the truck would see me bawl.