I Tried To Go To Cambodia But Didn't Quite Make It
Anybody staying in Philippines on a tourist VISA should be able to extend their VISA up to a maximum period. These days I cannot seem to get a straight answer from the immigration department as to whether this is 14 months, 18 months or three years. It depends which member of staff you ask as to which answer you receive.
A couple of years ago it was more clear and as I was approaching the maximum period of continuous stay, I had to leave. I decided to go to Cambodia, a place I had never been to. The temples intrigued me, as did the friendliness of the people. I wanted to travel by bus between two major cities, cycle around the temples, try out their infamous food and just enjoy being in Cambodia.
I was really very excited right up until I was ready to go through to the departure lounge at Clark airport. I reached the immigration desk and was told that my paperwork was incorrect. I did not have the correct Exit Clearance Certificate (ECC). The ECC is a must for anybody who has stayed more than six months in Philippines and wishes to leave. I was refused on the flight and was told to sit and wait.
During my last visit to the immigration office before my trip, I did ask for an ECC and filled out the necessary paperwork and paid. This payment also included my last extension taking me up to the maximum. Before leaving, I asked if the paperwork I had was the correct Exit Clearance Thingy and if I needed anything else to be able to leave the country and was assured that everything was correct.
"Are you sure? I can leave the country with THIS paper?"
So, I was a bit upset when I wasn't allowed to leave.
For those of you who (like me) do not work in the Department of Immigration, the ECC is envelope-sized and has your fingerprints on it. So, if nobody takes your fingerprints, you don't have an ECC. I did not know that and my paper did not have my fingerprints on. Be warned!
So, I was waiting and two uniformed officers approached; a man and a lady. They very politely explained to me why it was my fault. Every time I told a bit more of the story they pointed out why it was still my fault. Finally, after I asked "what is the first thing you check for when looking at a passport at immigration?" (the entry date of the passport holder), the officer gentleman finally conceded that yes, the person in the immigration office must have made a mistake. The lady then offered some cheer to lift me up: "Well, put it this way, at least you'll have the chance to stay in our wonderful country for two more days." (It was a Saturday and immigration was closed). I was not amused and expressed it by commenting on her unsuitability to become a comedienne.
"Sir, unfortunately, we are not the decision makers. The decision has already been made and there is nothing we can do about it. To be honest with you, we were sent to calm you down and to comfort you. If you would like to come into the office and share some cake with us and maybe have a coffee, we'd be happy to accommodate you."
In that moment, the frankness and honesty of the staff made me back down completely. I was deflated, but relieved to know that they did not really place the blame of their own staff on my shoulders and I knew that I would have to find another solution. The solution did not really come. I was advised to leave the airport building to book a flight at the booking desk outside. I then realised that I needed to speak to an immigration officer but the booking desk could not contact anybody inside the airport and I was then refused entry back to the airport by the same guard who I had joked with on my way in, on the basis of no longer being a valid passenger. He advised me to wait by the staff entry and ask every staff member passing by if they worked in immigration. It sounds ridiculous; that was his solution.
I was fuming.
I decided to take a long walk back to the city from the airport (I was too angry to get on a jeepney), where I bought a 7-11 twenty-something-pesos cornetto ice cream and sat on some grass to have a little think. Finally, I returned to Manila by bus and thanks to some very quick work at the immigration department was able to get my ECC and fly out to Singapore on the Monday. On arrival at Singapore airport I met the mad lady who spoke so many languages and then spent the next two days roller skating around Singapore, a city I really love, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not enjoy the tens of thousands of pesos I lost.
The story is vaguely interesting because the real problem was in a break down of communication. I asked a very clear question and was dismissed without any real consideration. It has happened to me in many customer service environments, particularly in Philippines. I can cite many examples. I can also cite many examples where the staff in Philippines have been exceptional, really breaking all kinds of rules to accommodate me. I like assessing what happened when it goes wrong as it helps me to achieve better results the next time.
These experiences teach me that there must be a skill to somehow being able to get a message across to a person who is unwilling to listen and that it is our own responsibility to check the jobs of those working for us.
I want to be clear. When I say "us" I mean "us: the customers". I have heard stories of Filipinos who have had a hard time in various offices too, some of whom blamed themselves and gave up, which is really quite sad.
Let us remember that these staff are working for us, they are serving us. We are the customers. It is not the other way around!
So, asides from sharing a funny little story, the more serious point is that we need to check the work of any supplier (even if it is an experienced office worker) because when they make mistakes they are often very expensive mistakes and it is us, the customers, who will have to pay the bill.