OFWs IN QUEUE

Homecoming is such a bittersweet affair for Filipino OFWs (acronym for overseas foreign workers). They are welcomed as modern day heroes upon coming home (think remittances), but there is much less love when they depart. It is one queue after the other that an OFW has to hurdle in order to exit the country and return to work. One questions why hailed heroes are made through go to such lengths to exit especially when their documents are sound. Why can’t information be disseminated clearly and widely? Why can’t everything be done in a one-stop? Why is the process so convoluted?

Queuing begins with securing the all-important OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate). There is still love felt when lining up for the OEC at POEA Ortigas or its satellite branches in Trinoma, Quezon City, and SM Aurora because the goal is to get it over and done with as soon as possible. After all, once that document – in triplicate – is within one’s hands, it is sweet vacation all the way. This is, of course, granted the computers didn’t break down, the employees came on time, and you were aware of the new ruling that only Balik-Manggagawa (BM) Online appointments would be entertained at the Trinoma QC branch. 7Walk-in applicants were turned away and told to book online by the security guard on the day I came. In fairness to POEA, there is announcement at the entrance of the Trinoma branch, but too bad if you weren’t within the area in May. Booking an appointment online is another queue an OFW has to conquer because, at times, the site is unavailable due the voluminous traffic of OFWs trying to book an appointment! Adding to the frustration is discovering that your records are not updated: enter the old OEC number and the annoying response is “number not found”. Go figure.

 

Crowd by xedos4

“Crowd”/Image by xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The illness-inducing aggravation begins with the journey to the airport which, depending on the flight, could begin at the crack of dawn. Traffic snarls are a constant worry because one can be stuck on the highway for hours and miss the flight. Take the gown designer, reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, of Ms Universe Pia Wurtzbach, who missed his flight to Los Angeles because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic. He said he wanted to get down and run to the airport, brimming he was with glorious purpose of delivering the gown to the Philippine candidate.

Count your blessings if the trip down EDSA is smooth because queue one was a cinch. Major queues are to follow at NAIA 2. There are several queues for the OFW to undergo – getting inside the airport; the POEA validation at the other end of the airport; another stop to get a stamp on the OEC; airline check-in counter; terminal fee exemption; immigration clearance; then security screening after immigration. However, this year, I skipped the POEA clearance and the pit stop queues and moved right on to the airline check-in counter. There was a new ruling I discovered when I was queuing for the POEA validation – those with an OEC processed through BM Online or at POEA Ortigas (I forget the third one) can go straight to the airline check-in counter. Airline check-in wasn’t agonizing as it looked despite the serpentine line and the heat (the afternoon sun was just too much for the cooling system). The PAL employees were in full work mode. A ground staff rallied her team, saying, “Double time, guys. Mahaba ang pila.” (The line is long.)

The next queue is for the terminal fee payment. This was, surprisingly, quick because this time a stamp on the boarding pass and you were in the immigration area where, unfortunately, was another meandering column. One isn’t home free. After exiting immigration is another line – security screening where instructions get a bit muddled. A sign says there is no need to take off the shoes, which everyone followed to the letter, but only to be told later by one of the airport staff, when you’re about to be frisked, that shoes have to be taken off and placed on a tray for screening.

 

Group of People by Renjith Krishnan

“Group of People”/Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Queues are still in place at the departure lounge. First is the line for the terminal fee refund stand in front of the Duty Free shops. The line is as long as one’s shoelaces. Next, when you’re raring to relieve yourself, you just have to hold it in until there is a cubicle available at the lavatory. Third, if you are famished, lines at the eateries are never short.

The final line? There’s still the queue to board the plane assuming that the plane is connected to the departure gate. But if it isn’t, you have to line up to get to the bus and then stand in line to get to your seat in the plane.

With what an OFW has to endure in returning and leaving home, I can’t help but wonder if there is a subconscious animosity towards people working abroad. The whole set-up is screaming a patronizing attitude of “Pagtiyagaan mo nalang. (Make do with it.)” Seamless queuing per se is not a problem as it shows order. What is riling is the lack of foresight and strong commitment in addressing perennial issues particularly the disproportional number of OFWs to the employees deployed at the airport and the OEC centres. Another is the work hours and days not extended during Christmas and New Year. Trinoma, for example, was closed OEC for online appointments until January 11.

Why are the OEC and the process of securing it an anathema to the OFW?

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