ALMOST 4 HOURS… 4 hours as opposed to the 30 minutes declared by the 'PGMA legacy' (as seen on TV and movie theatre widescreens)--the number of hours it took me and my family to apply for an E-passport.

All the while, I thought that booking a family appointment to the DFA will make our e-passport application faster. I was wrong.

Last May, I logged on the DFA site to book a family appointment for me, my husband and my little one. I got a schedule on the 24th of June 2010 at 1:00 to 1:30 in the afternoon.

Once our schedule was set, I started to procure the essential requirements to apply for an e-passport. Days passed by and finally, the day came. I still remember that in the DFA website, applicants were advised to come 30 minutes prior the time schedule, otherwise, they will not be entertained. As law-abiding citizens, we were there 50 minutes before the time. We headed to Gate 2 to start the application process where the guards on duty let us in immediately upon showing him the confirmation of our appointment. We proceeded to the officer’s in-charge of the application forms and afterwards to the Appointment Counter to get a reference number for the processing of our application.

Our agony started from there. We did not expect the long queue of people waiting for their papers to be processed. It took us one hour and forty five minutes waiting for our number to be displayed in the monitor indicating the window we will proceed to. I ignored the protest of my hungry stomach in the hope that we will be finished in less than an hour. After the processing, we then went to the cashier to pay for the applicable passport fees. Luckily, it only took us 5 minutes. Then, we proceeded to the enrollment section to once again get another reference number for the encoding section. Another long queue of applicants astonished us as we looked for vacant seats. There was no longer turning back. We had no choice--first, we needed the passport, and second, we have already paid the fees. Hence, we boldly faced another 2 hours of waiting for our numbers to be displayed on the monitor so that we can get our photographs captured and applications finalized.

While waiting, I have observed though the "bayanihan/tulungan" virtue of Filipinos. When someone could no longer wait for his number to be called and had to leave for some reasons, he did not bring his reference number with him. Instead, he handed it to my "seatmate" who's supposed to wait even longer. So my seatmate used it and headed to the enrollment booth when the number was called. Afterwards, she returned to us and gave her original reference number so we could use it. I was really thankful for that gesture since the new number saved us a lot of time. (We offered our original number to our other seatmates but they got numbers nearer than our original one.)

When 0ur number was called, we hurriedly went to the enrollment and image capturing station. Honestly, I no longer cared how I looked like when the DFA staff took my picture. I just wanted things to be done.

That was supposed to be the last step of the application process. But since we decided to have our passports delivered to our home to avoid this tedious process again, we proceeded to the Delivery Counter to pay the fees.  While my husband paid the fees, I got a chance to talk to one of the delivery staff. He said that probably the reason why it took us almost 4 hours to finish our application was that June 24th was Manila day. Holidays and Vacation Days are usually the times that the DFA is filled with lots of passport applicants.

I believe, in essence, the appointment just worked in the entrance gate; afterwards, it did not matter anymore. All of the applicants were in the same footing upon getting a reference number. Until now, I still regret that I have scheduled for a later time and not for an earlier time for things would have been different.

If I were to compare my experience when I first applied for a Green Passport way back in 2005 to my experience in applying for an E-passport this year, I think the process  did not really improve that much. I remember accurately that it took me only 3 hours to finish the application process then.While I agree that the process somehow was simplified due to the use of modern technology, like computerized window screens and digital cameras, still the amount of time spent in the whole application process was almost the same.

The PGMA legacy proudly boasts that in the past, it would take you a day to apply for a passport unlike these days when it will take you only 30 minutes.  But, for me, I beg to disagree. This is absolutely an exaggeration. The whole application, we believe, would take an hour or more and it would even depend on the kind of day (regular, holiday, or vacation) you'd go there.

The only consolation that I have in my experience is that I was able to finally procure an E-passport, so Disneyland, here I come!

By the way, a piece of advice for those who wear contact lenses, be sure to bring your case and solution, you sure are going to need it.

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