DUBAI: Midnight queues outside the Philippine Consulate of Filipinos applying for passport renewal were supposed to be a thing of the past. But not yet.
At 4am on Monday, XPRESS came across many ‘kabayans' (Filipino compatriots) still braving the cold wind while standing in a serpentine queue that lengthened by the minute outside villa No 48 housing the Philippine Consulate in Al Ghusais, Dubai.
They were obviously unaware of the changed rules.
An A4-size notice posted on the main gate reads: "Don't form queue at night or dawn because the listing has been discontinued" in Tagalog, but the people there seem unaware of the new rules.
The notice also announces that from March 20, 2011, the "walk-ins" for passport renewal will only be accommodated from 1pm.
Following an XPRESS report earlier, the Philippine Consulate had discontinued the practice from February 1 of listing of names at 4am for walk-ins to avoid "problems" due to lack of direct staff supervision, said Consul General Benito Valeriano.
The Consulate takes up to 200 passport renewal applicants daily with a three-month headway: those renewing this month had their names listed in December 2010. It's the "walk-in" applicants who have had to endure queues. Philippine law bans the outsourcing of passport applications. Many applicants criticised the lack of information about the changes.
Jeto Canastra, a hotel staff from Fujairah, was in queue from 10pm on Sunday, unaware that he would be attended to only at 1pm on Monday. "My information about the consulate is based on hearsay… so I came really early," he said.
Until March 19, up to 30 walk-ins were attended to from 11am, even if they stood in the queue overnight. "It's better not to have a phone connection [at the consulate]… the phones are just ringing out," said Fe San Pedro, 41, a hairstylist from Ras Al Khaimah who was in the queue from 4am on Monday.
Mohammad Bagisa, a Filipino AC technician in Dubai, said: "The lack of a proper system of disseminating information - either on the web or by phone - is unprofessional," he said.
Abner Sampaco said it was his third trip in as many days.
Valeriano however offered hope for walk-ins. "Many of those who had taken prior appointment don't show up so we are able to attend to walk-in applicants the same day … we fill them in the gaps," he said.
But he said people have a tendency to exaggerate. "They show up at 1am, which is unnecessary."
He denied that calls to the consulate go unattended. "It's not that we don't pick up the phone. There's a person assigned to take phone calls, but it is perpetually engaged with too many callers."
With only three biometric machines, the logjam is not expected to ease soon. Valeriano said they are working on improving the consulate's website, adding that the first available biometric machine from Manila would be sent to Dubai.