By David Haldane
Aug. 10, 2018
It was as if my entire life hung on the strength of a flickering Internet signal. One more minute of darkness, and I’d be lost forever. At least that’s how it seemed at the time.
Let me begin by saying that I’ve never harbored much sympathy for illegal immigrants to the United States. I’ve always figured that if my wife and half her family could do it right, well, so could anyone else. I might have to soften my views, however, based on my first week as a new immigrant to the Philippines. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t favor illegals. But part of me, I must admit, bears some newfound empathy where previously there was nothing but ice.
The immigration woes that brought me to this radical new understanding started, quite unbeknownst to me, in the guise of a fetching young officer at the airport in Cebu. “Of course,” she smilingly assured me, “just go to the Surigao immigration office within seven days to process your visa.”
The visa to which she was referring, of course, was the permanent residency for which I had painstakingly applied at the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles. It had taken some doing, to be sure, but not nearly as much, I’d been told, as would have been required in the Philippines. After submitting the paperwork – including, among other things, police and medical clearances, financial disclosures and a cashier’s check for $150 – everything was ready to pick up in just over a week. Specifically, everything consisted of a passport sticker allowing me to enter the country on a one-way ticket and a sealed envelope to be opened only by an immigration official in the Philippines.
That official turned out to be the fetching young Cebuano who confidently waved us toward our ultimate destination of Surigao City. From where secure in the knowledge that I had plenty of time, we embarked on a long recreational weekend on Siargao Island before getting down to the serious business at hand.
Imagine my surprise a few days later when the fine folks at immigration Surigao informed me that, no, they had no means of processing my application; what I really had to do was go back to Cebu.
And so up went the first of many red flags. Quickly re-arranging our plans, Ivy and I hopped aboard the next overnight ferry for the 10-hour trip to the city in question. Which would get us, by my reckoning, at the immigration office on just about day six.
And that’s when the Internet failed.
Trust me, it had been working just fine earlier that morning when we first arrived. But then they had sent us off to another office across town called the Bureau of Quarantine where I got tested for syphilis, had my picture taken and was interviewed by the presiding physician. Fortunately, the syphilis test came back negative (whew!). So, we took a fast cab back to the immigration department just in time to be told that the all-important connection to Manila was down.
“Something having to do with Globe,” an official-looking official earnestly explained. “It might come back up this afternoon or maybe tomorrow.”
When the connection hadn’t been restored by 3 p.m., we knew it was time to make a decision. So, Ivy caught the next ferry back to Surigao where she had important business pending, while I rented a room for the night.
And that’s when I had my great epiphany; that this was completely out of my hands. That the Internet connection would come up – or not – and that I would meet the seven-day deadline, or I wouldn’t. And, most importantly, that this was the reality with which I would have to make peace to survive in this great unwashed country called the Philippines. There was also a corollary: that making peace with uncertainty might just make me a better man.
The next morning, I dutifully returned to the immigration office where praise be to Jesus, the Internet connection had been restored! Of course, I wasn’t yet out of the woods; there were still lines to fall into, documents to be copied, more pictures to be taken, fingerprints to be grabbed and, oh yes, the little matter of another 6,447 pesos (about $121 US dollars) to be paid.
So, when will I be getting the coveted Alien Certificate of Registration card at which all these efforts were aimed? “Oh,” an official casually informed me, “don’t worry; it will be here in two or three months.” And how would I be informed? “You won’t be,” he assured me. “Just come back to see if it is ready.”
I have marked my calendar but am not holding my breath.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.