Sabar is a word that has been bandied in front of my nose every time something isn’t functioning well at my workplace in Indonesia. It’s annoying, in all honesty, to be told to have sabar, Indonesian for patience, because I find it an unconvincing excuse to cover up for one’s lack of professionalism. Irony of all ironies, I got to practice sabar in Manila because it simply had to be done unless I wanted a repeat of the ordeal at the Ortigas branch, which wasn’t an appealing alternative to my situation at the Trinoma branch. Located at the basement of Trinoma mall along North EDSA, shortly before SM, is an outlet of POEA where returning overseas foreign workers can get a piece of paper called OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) instead of going all the way to the main branch at the corner of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. The OEC is a piece of document – in triplicate – that every Filipino working overseas, who is not a permanent resident of that country, must possess and present at the airport in order to leave the country and report back to work. It can be obtained at the airport only if one’s stay doesn’t go beyond five days (or is it seven?). More than that, you have to go to the main branch of POEA or its satellite branches at SM Manila, DFS in Parañaque City and Service Avenue at Trinoma mall.
That there was a POEA branch at Trinoma was good news indeed. I received it from my father, who had stumbled upon it serendipitously after meeting with his high school classmates, with alacrity, basking in the thought that I can actually not have my holiday marred by queuing for hours. That sense of enthusiasm was still in me even after I got a queue number from the security guard but quickly disappeared when nothing was happening. I was number 084 in the queue and processing was stuck at 30+ without any sign of it moving any faster than a snail. It completely faded when I was told by the guard that processing was done manually because the computer system had been offline since morning. I had envisioned a one-hour waiting and processing time, and then I was off to enjoy my holiday. That imagined one hour stretched to four hours and 26 minutes – including a quick bite at Starbucks.
Roiled at the situation, thoughts of how to improve the abysmal system were zipping through my mind to keep me from going up to the counter and rail at the bespectacled man against the chaotic system. First, the number system should be firmly in place. The monitor should be functioning so it can clearly show the number because someone shouting the next number is headache-inducing. Second, the team including the two guards on duty should be utilized and briefed on their added duties, as part of the contingency plans, to facilitate a smoother and faster processing time. Sadly, the guards weren’t hence they were powerless to do anything or give concrete information and worse, were often accused of incompetence. The guards should be empowered to control the applicants so the people behind the counter can concentrate on processing the papers, not on crowd control. Third, inform the numerous applicants of the reason for the dinosaur-pacing of processing by posting a sign at the entrance together with the expected service time per person. Also, the announcement should include the requirements needed per person depending on his/her status so he/she doesn’t have to dash off to National Bookstore to photocopy documents and return only to line up again.
Sabar kicked in when I returned from my Starbucks run. The number was at 39 when I left; an hour later it had moved only up to 43. My thoughts would have been quiet had I had a book with me then. Sabar had me inhaling and exhaling inaudibly, observing people surreptitiously and going to my happy place mentally. It also involved not getting piqued at the main evaluator who, in my quiet observation, seemed to revel at the sound of his voice teasing or lecturing applicants and explaining to everyone in the tiny branch the need for patience.
“Konti pasensya lang po,” he said, his tone sounding like that of a teacher admonishing his grade school students for being unruly. “Off-line ho kasi ang computer. Kung hindi ho off-line, 5 minutes or 10 minutes tapos na po ang lahat.”
He droned on: “Huwag kayong mag-alala. Nakausap ko ang big boss at sabi sa akin ay kailangan daw lahat ma-process kaya hanggang alas siete kami dito.
Sabar was in full gear. I was muttering under my breath how the computer being off-line wasn’t reason for the process to be longer than it should. The people behind the counter could have been made use of more to provide maximum service. For instance, the young man writing out the receipts for payments should also have been tasked with filling in the OEC with the details and passing them to the main evaluator for signing. The main evaluator, in the first place, is the one who oversees the eligibility of the applicant to go to the next step, which is payment. Instead, the main evaluator had to fill in the details for the OEC slip, sign it and call the applicant to retrieve his/her OEC slip and passport on top of his duty of receiving both walk-in and online applicants. If the young man had thought of that the main evaluator wouldn’t have been overburdened and the processing would have been a little faster than it was.
A little less than five hours I walked out of the POEA outlet with the OEC, thinking I could put away my sabar. No such luck. Sabar was needed again to get a cab home.