Friday, June 22, 2018
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Pinoy Kasi

I love PRC

Government employees are entitled to special leaves called “government transaction days,” and in UP the union was able to negotiate an entitlement of six such days a year. The first time I heard about it I laughed and said, “It takes one to know one,” meaning a government employee knows how tedious the process can be for such transactions.

That special leave can be a source of relief, but only partly. You still have to psych yourself for the long lines, discourteous or low-bat staff, etc. All that was on my mind when I went to renew my veterinary license at the Professional Regulatory Commission or PRC.

Then and now

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I confess that it has been years since I renewed my license. And previous renewals were done through a courier service, so my last visit might even have been in the past century. Memories of previous renewals, which I have been doing since 1977, were miserable. Just getting to the PRC main office on Paredes Street was like joining the annual Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo. Hordes of people were milling around, including fixers and those applying for a new license or renewing one, or getting other documents (for example, seafarer’s books).

In that 20th-century setup, no one seemed to know what to do. Guards were grumpy and clerks were apathetic at best. After running through various gauntlets, you’d be told you lacked some documents, or if everything was in order, to return after a few days.

Fast-forward to the present. I had heard the situation had improved tremendously. I checked the PRC website, which was most impressive in terms of information: the general requirements, as well as specific ones for each of the dozens of professions that require a license.

You could do the renewal process online all the way up to setting an appointment for the last steps, but I I’m not very good with online transactions. I had my secretary call to ask for more information, and they advised that I come in person because it had been years since I last renewed.

I set a whole day for the process and left early, getting to PRC at about 8:50 a.m. Not much traffic, even if classes had started in the University Belt. I groaned seeing a line in front of the entrance but it turned out to be mainly for security checks and it was moving. I found a public assistance window right after, with two priority windows for senior citizens, the disabled and the pregnant. The clerk asked when I last renewed and I held my breath, trying to look very, very old, and said I could not remember. Then I thought that maybe he would say they don’t renew the licenses of people with memory problems, so I gave an estimate: I think 10 years.

He looked at me almost sternly, said I’d have to pay a hefty fine, and gave me an application form, with instructions to go on to Window 27.

What a relief: The form was only half a page long. It asked for basic information including when I first got my license and my license number. It also had a space for an ID photo, so I had to cross the street where several photo shops were. I got my ID photo in less than 10 minutes.

Window 27 turned out again to be for special people like myself. The clerk took my application form and told me to wait for my name to be called. It happened shortly. I had to pay a total of P2,400 and was told to proceed to Window 18 to make the payment.

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I had to leave PRC again to find an ATM, which was a distance away. I made a mental note about going back to the area, amazed at what was being sold (from dry seals to roses).

I got back, paid the fee and was referred to Window 1. After a while, my name was called and there it was: my renewed license.

I returned to the car and checked the time: 10:05 a.m. Everything, including interruptions for an ID photo and an ATM withdrawal, took just over an hour. Sure, the quick processing happened in part because I’m a senior citizen, but I estimate that without special treatment you could get things done in two hours.

Last I checked some years back, there were more than 3 million Filipino professionals. That’s a lot of records and paperwork to process, but PRC was able to streamline its procedures. Licenses are good for three years at a time, but that still means more than a million people to be processed each year.

I know the Anti Red Tape Act has helped, and a Citizen’s Charter requirement where government offices have to have large posters listing the steps for a transaction, as well as window numbers. I forgot my glasses so I couldn’t read the posters in detail, but I think most people weren’t reading either. The posters are there for reference, in case you feel something is wrong.

We inherited bureaucratic procedures from our Spanish and American colonizers, and added our own. But computers and new information technologies have helped cut that red tape. Some offices are better than others in improving their services, and PRC clearly stands out.

(On the other end of the spectrum is the Social Security System, where everything is still stacked against the public, especially the poor. The system has numerous bugs with dead ends in their procedural loops. I’ve asked law students to help my household help with their claims and the students are shocked with what they see, sometimes feeling helpless themselves.)

What’s needed, too—and PRC has it—is graciousness, exemplified when the man in front of me at the entrance was stopped by the security guard because he was in shorts, which PRC forbids. (I agree: If you want to get a professional license, then dress professionally.) But the guard was courteous, and asked the man in shorts if he was a senior citizen. The man said yes and the guard asked to see his senior citizen’s ID. I could see Lolo was a bit irritated, but he showed his ID anyway and the guard let him through.

Finding a way

We Filipinos like to seek help by saying, “Sana makahanap ng paraan,” the most poignant examples being at the Philippine General Hospital when patients lack financial resources and are practically begging physicians to do something. Sadly, in other contexts, “finding a way,” usually offered by a government clerk, means a bribe.

By coming up with clear procedures and policies, PRC has practically eliminated the need for the negative way-finding. The security guard did find a way, positively, for the senior in shorts, with an ever so slight bending of the rules. No one was put in harm’s way for that graciousness, and I suspect if the guard insisted, that would have led to an argument, and Lolo’s blood pressure rising, and the line growing longer. We in the government (and the private sector) need to observe the spirit, rather than the letter, of our laws and rules. No one was put in harm’s way from allowing in Lolo in shorts. I also saw children inside, which I thought was very gracious of PRC—a tacit recognition that there are parents (usually mothers) who can’t leave their children alone at home.

I love you, PRC, and I hope I can say that soon for other government offices, including my own in UP. (I also hope people will give credit where it’s due: Our enrollment lines in Diliman were much shorter last semester, and you can expect even shorter ones in August.)

Are you wondering why I even bothered with renewal? I figured, close to retirement, why not soar on second wind and pick up on being a vet, doing marine-mammal rescues, or training pets for hospital work?

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: government transaction days, Inquirer Opinion, Michael l. tan, Pinoy Kasi, PRC, professional regulation commission, special leaves
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