Pairs of shoes in the car boot of an illegal private cab outside the Phillipine consulate in Dubai and, inset, an XPRESS reporter wearing the ‘hired’ trainers. Image Credit: Jay B. Hilotin/XPRESS

DUBAI: A little-known rule requiring visitors to the Philippine Consulate in Dubai to be dressed appropriately — no shorts and flip-flops — is generating windfall profits for illegal private taxi operators who rent out shoes for between Dh20 and Dh50 for the duration of the visit.

The illegal cabbies offer the service to male visitors applying for passport renewal or getting documents authenticated.

Rod, a Dubai-based Filipino aviation executive, alerted XPRESS about the practice after a visit to the consulate on Thursday.

"These people are minting money off people who are unaware about the dress code," said Rod, who came to the consulate in his BeachWalk slippers. Rod, however, grabbed the Dh30 rental offer to save time and money: it would cost more to bring his own shoes from his Al Baraha flat.

To check the complaint, this reporter wore white sandals on Monday, but was barred from entering the consulate gate at 9.45am. One of the Nepalese security guards said I could rent a pair of shoes from one of the "guys" outside the gate. He called a certain "boy". Then the haggling began. It turned out that the rent depends on the distance between the consulate and the customer's house and day of the week. "So where do you live?" ‘boy' asked me. "Al Quoz," I said. "Then it's Dh25," he said. "No, Dh20," I tried haggling. "OK. I'm just trying to help you. Just return the pair to the car after you're done, even if I'm not here."

Further probing revealed a whole bunch of shoes-for-hire men working outside the consulate. They keep the pairs ready in their car boot parked in a nearby sand patch. Over two days, XPRESS saw numerous Filipino men wearing slippers being flagged down at the gate. The guards point to an overhead notice that says "shorts and slippers are not allowed".

Benito Valeriano, the Philippine Consul General to Dubai, told XPRESS that their dress code simply follows the rules of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). "I've observed that some Filipinos who come to the consulate have complete disregard for the institution," said Valeriano. "They come in ‘Puruntong' (Bermuda shorts) and flip-flops. They wouldn't wear that kind of dress while visiting other government institutions."

The dress code, posted on DFA's website, was first implemented in Manila in May 2010. Reports have it that women who come in sleeveless or spaghetti-strap tops are barred from entering DFA's Manila facility.

Nhel Morona, an official of the Migrante NGO group, said private guards must face disciplinary action if their ties with the illegal cabbies are proven. "Even if the dress code rule was posted on the DFA website, not everyone has access to the web. And Filipinos in the UAE only go to the consulate once or twice a year; so it's not easy to get updates," he said.

Matt Bagunu, acting head of the Filipino Community (Filcom), which groups 60 organisations in the UAE, said: "We accept that a public office needs a dress code... But that's more of an appeal, rather than an absolute rule. It's one thing to have a dress code, but it's quite another if it's being enforced strictly for private gain."

As for the shoes-for-hire guys, Valeriano said: "For security reasons, only those with legitimate business are allowed inside the consulate compound."