Tech-savvy, but still backward


THE Philippines has acquired a reputation for having the most tech-savvy, digitally-forward citizens. Except for the fact that we have the slowest Internet connection in Asia (okay, maybe second to the slowest), we have been quick to shift to new technology especially when Covid-19 kept us mostly at home.

From online shopping to using new streaming sites for our TV and movie fixes, to entertaining followers via TikTok dances (and now for political campaigning purposes), Filipinos are, as my generation used to say, “with it.”

Unfortunately, when it is government that tries to adopt to new technology, we are total failures. It’s either too much tech or none at all. A case in point: On Monday, I went to Ayala TriNoma in Quezon City. To enter, I had to sign up for the Kyusi Pass by scanning a QR code, then get a temperature check. I was there for a haircut and at the salon I frequent, I had to scan their QR code prior to entering and get another temp check.

Done with my haircut, I went to Healthy Options to look for keto bread. Before entering, again another QR code to scan, and yet another temp check. Same thing happened at the other merchants I quickly visited.

I am told that this scene is replicated all throughout the National Capital Region, in most LGUs. Why? What’s the point in all these QR code scans? Should not the LGU pass, in this case the Kyusi Pass, have sufficed? In fact, since we now have this pass, all merchants have to do is actually scan our QR code so we show up in their records that we visited them.

There is also the StaySafe app, which is supposed to be the app to end all apps for contact-tracing purposes. With its promised interoperability with the LGUs’ own apps, we should no longer have to scan another QR code of merchants, or wherever destination we are headed as long as we remain in the Philippines. All we ought to do is show our individual QR code, and our destination’s authorities should be able to scan that code for their contact-tracing records.

I understand the urgency of government trying to contain the spread of Covid-19, and the desire to be able to quickly trace a person’s whereabouts and possible contacts in case the visitor or resident does fall ill. But if government is about serving the people, why is the burden of scanning these QR codes on us?

Our tourism stakeholders also keep complaining about the same issue. If we want to travel from, say, Quezon to Ilocos Norte, we must be prepared to go on the LGU site of our destination and fill out government forms online. Maybe the LGU would issue a QR code or not, and maybe it would require us to be RT-PCR tested, or antigen tested,  or merely present our vaccination card, before entry. Again, how illogical given that government has been trying to encourage domestic tourism.

Since prior to the pandemic, many taxpayers have had issues with the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s online tax forms and registration system. One could only fill up forms like the income tax return using a Windows-based computer. If you’re a Mac user, good luck finding a Windows PC since Internet cafés are now a thing of the past. And yet a friend of mine, who is into web site development and all the tech stuff, said it’s quite easy to include Macs and iOS as platforms on which these BIR forms should work, and be easily filled up online. He was even willing to do the job for free.

Again, if government is about public service, why make it difficult for us citizens to file our tax returns?

Another problem I encountered recently is the passport application system of the Department of Foreign Affairs. To be fair, DFA’s site is easy to navigate compared to the BIR’s. It doesn’t care what platform you use. And once I was able to secure my appointment date, paying was a breeze. You can pay online, or at select brick-and-mortar sites.

My only issue was, I could not type a period to abbreviate my “Maria” i.e., “MA.” which is the form I have used since I was in nursery school. I didn’t even think it was a problem as I completed my application for passport renewal, although I did notice in the other spaces, like for my home address, I could shorten “street” to “St.” I just chalked it up to being a new system. After all,  even some of my credit cards do not bear the “MA.” even if on my original application this is how I wrote my abbreviated my first name.

Unfortunately, after queuing for two hours, the passport staff said I could not proceed because of the missing period in my first name. I tried to explain I would not deliberately miss out on typing in the period symbol on my form, except that the site would not accept it, for some strange reason. Later, one of the staff informed me that some applicants also missed a period in their abbreviated “junior” or JR, for the same reason. It sounds ridiculous, I know.I reported this to DFA officials who have promised to look into the matter. I suggested there should be a way to make these tiny corrections immediately onsite, especially for those renewing their passports. There are also people who forget to write their middle names, apparently.

But I was told that the “no correction” system has been able to cut down on scams perpetrated by unscrupulous individuals in cahoots with some passport insiders. So I suppose we should applaud that. And I know the passport staff was just following protocol, so I understand why they would not budge on my appeal for a common-sense solution despite this predicament not being my fault.

Surely though, for those renewing their passports, it should be easy to correct such tiny mistakes at encoding, since we have our old passports—official identification issued by the DFA itself—as proof of our complete, certified names and identity. And I suppose that since the agency is computerized, its passport branches can just look up our old files using their central database. It would not even take 10 minutes for the correction to be made onsite.

For now, I will have to redo my application form—the passport staff assured  I would be able to type in the bloody period this time—then return to the branch for processing.

Technology can make our lives easy. If only it is used correctly.

Image courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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