Private red tape
Right before New Year’s, a physician-friend sent me a long text about new procedures pertaining to sending and claiming air cargo, which make it an ordeal. Here’s an edited version of the text:
“If you want to send a box of fruit from Manila to Davao using PAL cargo, you have to go to their cargo area near Terminal 1, to an outsourced company, Sky Logistics. They then ask you to fill up a form, have the box weighed and measured, after which you have to bring the box for X-ray, and then for clearance from the Philippine National Police. All of this is processed in the same area, but if you’re sending fruits you have to get a quarantine permit, which is in the departure area of the second floor of Terminal 2! Not only that, to get there you have to get a gate pass at the first floor of the Pass Control Room. You have to leave your ID and pay P50, non-refundable, then go up again with a sticker on your shirt so they will allow you to go inside the departure area.
“Which means you have to go through X-ray and body check like any other passenger. Inside the departure area just across the X-ray entrance is the quarantine officer. He told me he had run out of copies of the permit and told me to go back down to get more copies. After I got the permits, he asked me what fruits I was sending—I wanted to tell him it’s already written on the paper from PAL. Anyway, after securing the quarantine permit, you have to go back down to the Pass Control Room to get your ID and travel back to Terminal 1.”
The point of my doctor-friend was that everything for cargo dispatch used to be under one roof and would take 10 to 15 minutes, no traveling from one terminal to another and gasoline expenses, no need to pay P50 at the Pass Control Room, no body searches and X-rays like you were a departing passenger.
The story doesn’t end there. After the Christmas break, one of my physician-students turned in a short research report. I had asked them to describe any kind of event over the holidays, just to practice their observation skills. Her paper was titled “Pila sa Lechon.” It was about picking up lechon sent to her and her husband from Cagayan de Oro. This time it wasn’t Philippine Airlines but Cebu Pacific. The sender was a former patient, who has made it a point to send lechon every Dec. 24, in time for noche buena. The doktora said that for years she picked up the lechon sent by this former patient and didn’t have to wait for more than 15 minutes.
Well, this time around Cebu Pacific announced there was a new policy, starting with a new pickup point at the old domestic terminal, which is much smaller and has less parking space compared with the previous pickup point. My doctor-friend describes what happened when she arrived at the old domestic pickup point:
“I entered the building where a hurriedly scribbled sign that says ‘lechon pick up’ was pasted. I was not prepared for the sight that was before me. Inside the darkly lit, crowded building was a long queue of people waiting for their lechon. I thought I was in the wrong place because this never happened before. I had to ask several people ‘Ito po ba ang pila sa lechon?” … I took my place in the tortuous, snaking line that already had at least three loops before I could see its end, which was in front of two windows with only two people processing all the claims for lechon. There must have been a hundred people ahead of me. I was aghast at the sight and would have wanted to just march out but this was the lechon that my family was also looking forward to for the noche buena. Already, I could hear similar reactions from people close by, such as “Bakit ba tayo nagtitiyaga dito… cholestrol at high blood lang naman ang mapapala natin!” (Why are we going through all this when all we’ll get is cholesterol and high blood pressure.) Others were cursing Cebu Pacific for making the process very cumbersome and inconvenient.
“It was 3 p.m. when I took my place in the line and soon the line was becoming longer but we were only inching forward little by little. The building was one big space but it was now being filled with people, and the only source of ventilation was the entrance of the building which was slowly being blocked by more and more people coming in.”
The doctor, who’s training to become a medical anthropologist, described how amid the chaos people would crack jokes, but restless children did make it difficult to keep holiday cheer. It took an hour before the doctor finally got to the area where three clerks were handling claims. One middle-aged woman jumped the queue, but people just let her go in the spirit of Christmas.
The man in front of the doctor got to the window only to be told the flight from Davao, where his lechon was coming from, had not arrived. There was a torrent of expletives from the irate man. The doctor finally got to the clerk at 4:45 p.m. Since the flight arrived at 12 noon, the cargo people had to search for her shipment, among many other boxes. In fairness to Cebu Pacific, there was a kind Cebu Pacific employee who noticed that the doctor had been waiting for a long time and offered to help with the search. The doctor got her lechon released at 5 p.m., almost two hours after she arrived.
The doctor had other reflections on lechon, and cholesterol… and on Cebu Pacific. After she submitted her paper, I told her about the problems now of sending cargo out at Philippine Airlines.
The two stories remind us that red tape and inefficiency are not monopolies of government. Private red tape exists, and can sometimes be worse than government’s. Just think of the many forms we have to fill up at banks, and I’ve told my banks repeatedly that the more repeat information and signatures submitted, the higher the chances of security breaches. I was in fact victimized once—someone was able to forge my signature to transfer funds from a bank, a large one not known to be inefficient, to a provincial rural bank.
The most horrendous red tape is when government regulations (for example, quarantine or Central Bank circulars) dovetail with private companies’ love of forms to produce what we saw at Philippine Airlines and at the banks.
The doctor who complained about Philippine Airlines wonders if all that red tape could lead to corruption. I’m certain it does. I don’t know how aware private companies are about their personnel accepting little “incentives” from customers who want to jump the queue, for example, when you request maintenance checkups and repairs.
Private companies should know too that even if there is no corruption, the inefficiency that comes about from convoluted procedures will lead to public suspicions of corruption. Combine the perceptions of inefficiency with corruption, and the company stands to lose customers, not just from the ones who had to go through the ordeals but also from friends and relatives and neighbors of the victims of the private red tape.