It is hereby declared the policy of the State to promote integrity, accountability, proper management of public affairs and public property as well as to establish effective practices aimed at the prevention of graft and corruption in government. Towards this end, the State shall maintain honesty and responsibility among its public officials and employees, and shall take appropriate measures to promote transparency in each agency with regard to the manner of transacting with the public, which shall encompass a program for the adoption of simplified procedures that will reduce red tape and expedite transactions in government. (Sec. 2. Declaration of Policy, R.A. 9485 or the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007)
Too bad these inspired goals are not matched by most of the provisions of RA 9485 nor by the actions of the POEA (and possibly not a few other government agencies). Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had this recent article by Stella Ruth Gonzales, “Exit clearance: An OFW’s nightmare” – where the new OFW recounts what she calls what could be “one of our worst encounters with government bureaucracy” after it took her 3 days just to get an Exit Clearance prior to her departure for work abroad - nor would we have heard more from the dozens of similar feedback at the end of her article.
OFW’s POEA nightmare
Ms. Gonzales’ ordeal starts with a 6.30 am arrival at the POEA just to get a referral form for a medical exam and a schedule for the pre-orientation departure seminar. Upon arrival, she was given a number only to be told to come back the next day.
She returned early again the next day but the relevant POEA counter would only entertain applicants well beyond 8 am. Add to that the surprise in finding out the only question posed to all applicants was: “Will your employer repatriate your remains if you die abroad?” She was lucky, she could answer “yes”, repatriation was part of her contract. Unknowing applicants who had no such clause in their contracts, had to go back to their employers or agencies to include the relevant provision in their contracts and line up again another day.
Knowing that the government will not spend for the repatriation of her remains, she was then given a medical exam referral form and her seminar schedule. But since she was already late for the morning-only seminar for the day, she had to return another day.
So as not to waste time, she opted to get the medical (physical and psychological) exam that day. To get same-day results, she had to go to Manila instead of a clinic near the POEA in Pasig.
Upon returning for the seminar on another day, she discovered seminar gems such as –
“the additional talk at the start and end of the lecture—from representatives of a bank and a telecoms company who spoke about their products. It was like watching a Manny Pacquiao fight on free TV in the Philippines where you had no choice but to bear the commercials.”
“[The lecturer] wasted our time by discussing his trip to the province the previous weekend, and the beauty pageant on TV the previous night. “Who was your candidate?” he asked one of the OFWs. When she could not give a ready answer, he said: “I liked the first runner-up. I think she gave the best answer to the question.” Then he proceeded to tell us what the contestant’s answer was.
He was trying to liven up his lecture with stories, but everybody was pressed for time. Some of the applicants had to go to the OWWA office for additional requirements. But no one could leave without the precious PDOS certificate. We were trapped.”
“The lecturer reminded us about how our employers abroad put a premium on time. “Time is gold,” said the lecturer, who arrived 15 minutes late, and ended his talk 20 minutes beyond the allocated time.“
Once she completed the requirements, “she ran to the POEA staff member who was going to take a look at my documents. It took more than an hour for them to check the contract (the same one they had previously checked), initial it and check their database whether my employer was on the blacklist. Was then told to have her fees assessed, “but the entire staff were about to take their lunch break. When I tried to ask the female staff member at the counter whether it would be possible for her to spare a few minutes to assess my fees, she glared at me. … The counters closed at exactly 12 p.m. They opened at 15 minutes past 1.” She eventually got her Exit Clearance.
The above is just a summary of her ordeal. To put salt on her wounds, she left the country without Immigration officers asking for her Exit Clearance.
Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007
The POEA cannot be excused from ignorance of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007. Its been 4 years since the law was enacted.
Provisions relevant to Ms. Gonzales’ ordeal should have been followed -
Sec. 6. Citizen’s Charter - All government agencies including departments, bureaus, offices, instrumentalities, or government-owned and/or controlled corporations, or local government or district units shall set up their respective service standards to be known as the Citizen's Charter in the form of information billboards which should be posted at the main entrance of offices or at the most conspicuous place, and in the form of published materials written either in English, Filipino, or in the local dialect, that detail:
(a) The procedure to obtain a particular service;
(b) The person/s responsible for each step;
(c) The maximum time to conclude the process;
(d) The document/s to be presented by the customer, if necessary;
(e) The amount of fees, if necessary; and
(f) The procedure for filing complaints.
The mandatory requirement which is the “repatriation clause” should have been conspicuously published at the POEA. The computation of the fees should have also been posted.
No Lunch Breaks
Sec. 8 Accessing Frontline Services –
(e) Adoption of Working Schedules to Serve Clients - Heads of offices and agencies which render frontline services shall adopt appropriate working schedules to ensure that all clients who are within their premises prior to the end of official working hours are attended to and served even during lunch break and after regular working hours. [emphasis supplied]
Once the applicants arrive at the POEA, their papers should already be processed; they should not have been merely given a ticket to come back the following day.
And government services are not supposed to break for lunch.
The Implementing Rules of RA 9485 even provide that -
“… Offices and agencies may consider providing frontline services as early as seven (7) in the morning until as late as seven (7) in the evening to adequately attend to clients. The frontline services must at all times be complemented with adequate staff by adopting mechanisms such as rotation system among office personnel, sliding flexi-time, reliever system especially in peak times of the transaction, or providing skeletal personnel during lunch and snack time.“ (Sec. 3. Working Schedule, Rule VI.)
Public Assistance Desk
Confusion and questions – general time wastage - may be avoided by offering an initial assessment of requirements at the public assistance desk.
Sec. 8 Accessing Frontline Services –
(g) Establishment of Public Assistance/Complaints Desk - Each office or agency shall establish a public assistance/complaints desk in all their offices.
5-10 days for official action
Unfortunately, the only thing that the POEA might know about the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 is the period between 5-10 days for acting on transactions which may justify the 3-day wait just to get the Exit Clearance.
(1) All applications and/or requests submitted shall be acted upon by the assigned officer or employee during the period stated in the Citizen's Charter which shall not be longer than five working days in the case of simple transactions and ten (10) working days in the case of complex transactions from the date the request or application was received. Depending on the nature of the frontline services requested or the mandate of the office or agency under unusual circumstances, the maximum time prescribed above may be extended. For the extension due to nature of frontline services or the mandate of the office or agency concerned the period for the delivery of frontline services shall be indicated in the Citizen's Charter. The office or agency concerned shall notify the requesting party in writing of the reason for the extension and the final date of release for the extension and the final date of release of the frontline service/s requested.
Simple transactions (like issuing a referral form for a medical exam and scheduling a pre-orientation departure seminar) which may be actually be completed in a matter of minutes are thus allowed to remain pending for at least 5 days for the law has set a minimum of 5 days.
If only public servants realize and acknowledge that they are that – public servants with incomes funded directly from taxpayer money. Then they would focus on serving the public and making it easier for the latter to transact with them and obtain whatever they need from the government without unnecessary hassle. What’s the point in paying taxes?
Imagine OFWs needing Exit Clearances having gone home for a 1-2 week vacation. They will have to spend a good portion of their precious vacation time obtaining government papers. If they don’t have a POEA branch in their cities, that’s more time and money wasted.
President Noynoy Aquino often reminds the people of walking on the straight and narrow road. He never mentions the obstacles that the government itself puts on the road that prompts people to look for the shorter though crooked path.
 An Act To Improve Efficiency In The Delivery Of Government Service To The Public By Reducing Bureaucratic Red Tape, Preventing Graft And Corruption, And Providing Penalties Therefor, June 02, 2007.
 Gonzales, S.O. (2011, July 7). Exit clearance: an ofw’s nightmare. Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/21871/exit-clearance-an-ofw%E2%80%99s-nightmare