I’d come to Manila to accomplish two things. Foremost, the renewal of my Alien Certificate of Registration card bearing the 13A permanent resident visa that must be updated every five years. And second, as I would be there anyway, to perform readings at Lyceum of the Philippines University in Intramuros, and a high school in a different part of town.
Lyceum had gone well, attracting a good-sized crowd with lots of questions regarding a foreigner’s perceptions of the Philippines recounted in his latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle. Now we were enroute to the high school, where my appearance was scheduled for 10 a.m. At 11:30, we were still seven kilometers away standing still.
“I’m worried about getting to immigration in time,” I said. “At this rate, we won’t make it until well after closing!”
Patrick had to agree. And so, he placed the morning’s umpteenth call, finally telling our hosts that we wouldn’t be coming. “Manila traffic,” he averred, a common excuse here requiring no further explanation. He reset the GPS, and ninety minutes later parked the car just a few dozen blocks from the national Bureau of Immigration.
I felt confident, having carefully prepared all the documents mentioned during a similar visit months before. Ah, but then came the first of several snags; where, an immigration official wanted to know, was my barangay Certificate of Residency?
“Excuse me?” I said, “my what?”
“You need a statement from the barangay saying that you live there,” she explained.
Slowly, my blood rose. My barangay was in Northern Mindanao, 1,076 kilometers away. “You mean I need to go back?” I stammered in what must have sounded like a forlorn plea. She just smiled and waved me away.
And that’s when we hit on a daring plan. Commandeering my cell phone, I called my sister-in-law back in Surigao. “Eva,” I implored, “can you help me with something?”
Amazingly, she did just that; scooting down to the barangay office to make the request, she emailed me a copy of the required certificate within the hour. And thank God, the sour-faced immigration official agreed to accept a printout without the original.
But there were still other barriers to achieving complete legal recognition. A fully accomplished application. A notarized statement, signed be me, attesting to my residency in Punta Bilar. A special Power of Attorney and signed copy of my passport, enabling Patrick to pick up the new ACR card after seven working days. And, last but not least, a cool-looking folder with clips to bind everything together.
All of which we miraculously accomplished after a few hours of scurrying between the various printers, copiers, legal offices, notaries, and stationery shops within easy walking distance.
Then came the coup de grâce: a 240-peso-per-month fine for not reporting the change of address that, according to my barangay certificate, had occurred in, hmmm, 2018? Which, of course, no one at the local immigration office in Surigao had bothered mentioning when I’d inquired about it several years earlier.
Still, we plowed on, finishing at 4:56 p.m. just four minutes before closing. We had no choice, given my scheduled departure from the country on September 15th, the same day my old ACR expires. The final price tag: 17,000 pesos (around $300 US) in fines, fees, supplies, and professional services.
But now I’m worried about how long it will take to get that darn card. Seven business days doesn’t seem like much, but there’ve already been two working holidays since I submitted my papers with two more scheduled next week.
I’m just hoping to make my plane.
David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. An award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster, Haldane is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.