Here are a few thoughts on a question that comes up frequently here on PhilFAQS where we try to answer the most common questions about living in the Philippines. With this one you are not going to get a clear, quick answer from me, but I’ll give you some current guidance and some real world experiences that will help you decide some things for yourself.
Should I Use A Fixer?
One of the joys as well as the hazards of living here in the Philippines is that you can often buy almost anything you want .. or hire someone to get something done for you. Many of these service type arrangements are perfectly legal and sometimes even smart to do, I mean why stand in line for something when you can get someone to stand in line for you?
But of course many of these ‘quick fixes’ are illegal, or bordering so closely on illegal that the average person probably wants nothing to do with them.
There is often a real problem with folks who are new here pondering over the choice of doing it yourself and paying someone else to do it for you. Some facts you might want to use in your decision process:
Often your Filipino friends and family are a poor resource to help you decide. I’ve been advised often that I “couldn’t possibly” do something, especially with a government office, on my own. In many cases, I’ve gone and tried any way and had no problems at all.
Another thing to remember is, most Filipinos (even lawyers, unless they specialize in immigration issues) know next to nothing regarding immigrations office dealings and other legal issues pertaining to foreigners. Why should they, the average American knows little or nothing about immigration/citizenship procedures in the US either .. why would either of them know that much … they are already citizens? When in doubt, try things for yourself first.
Filipinos also often have an inborn sense of not being entitled to anything … so they frequently don’t ask questions. Americans, like me for example, feel we ought to be entitled to anything we want, so I ask for what I want at any office or official place. Sometimes I get told no, but I’ve been told no before. If you don’t ask, it’s for sure you won’t get.
So what has worked well to me is first, research what you rights an obligations are (from an official source, not what you read from ‘some guy on inline’, or worse yet in a bar), who may not know even as much as you do about the subject, and then go follow the steps and do it legally. Believe me, it’s often less trouble that paying someone to try to circumvent the system.
A Filipino lady I know once set out to get herself a passport. There was an error on her birth certificate. Wrong name. You can get a birth certificate corrected via the proper procedures at the Philippine NSO (National Statistics Office). Yes it takes time, you have to fill up some forms and you have top pay a few (legally proscribed fees, not “fixer fees” fees). But it is the right of every Filipino to do so.
(you might like to read my recent “There I Was” post for a little more insight on this whole “not entitled” issue.)
This lady didn’t want to go though this process, so she paid someone to get her a birth certificate that read the way she wanted it to, and then to take that birth certificate to the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and get her a passport. Illegal? Technically yes, but many of us would say, “Oh yeah, but not that illegal, she really wasn’t doing anything criminal, and besides the time, the money, the surly government officials … think of all the hassle she avoided.” True enough. And she did have her shiny new Philippine passport in hand after all.
Well it came to pass that she wanted to get a visa to visit the US. So she filled up the required form, paid the fee (non refundable, of course) and turned in her application and passport to the US Embassy. Came time for her interview with the US consular officer to get her visa. Can you guess what happened?
(which was totally forged. Completely to her surprise, her ‘fixer’ just had a phony birth certificate and a phony passport made. I mean why stand in line … fixer see, fixer do)
was confiscated turned over to the Philippine NBI (National Bureau id Investigation). Visa applicant entered into the USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Service) database as attempting to perpetrate immigration fraud. Under existing US State department rules. she also received a lifetime USA entry ban. No entry into the US on any visa, due to the criminal act of signing her name to a false US government document … the visa application.
A consular officer has the right to do this .. no hearing, no judge, no second chances. lie to the US government officially and it’s over, matter closed.
The lady then received a personal visit from an NBI agent regarding her criminal act of buying a fake passport. So far she has escaped any prosecution by cooperating with the NBI to catch the forger/fixer
(an action that could be dangerous in itself … some criminals get downright nasty with people who help the government capture them … being a witness for police on raids in back alleys isn’t my idea of a ‘fun’ evening)
but she is still ‘scarred for life’ legally. You be the judge … was she smart to use a fixer?
Moral of that story? If you do decide to use a fixer, figure out in advance how you will know you are actually getting what you pay for. I can go down to Recto Ave in Quiapo and buy you almost any sort of passport or legal document you want … but it won’t be worth much.
Just recently a reader contacted me about some thoughts he had of moving here to the Philippines. Among other issues he was very concerned about owning land … which for practical purposes is not possible for a foreigner. As we exchanged ideas and information, he relayed to me that he had a solution to the land ownership problem. I was of course curious, thinking he might have discovered a loophole I didn’t know about. His answer:
“Simple, Dave. I know a senior police official there in the Philippines who told me that for a fee, he would get me a report of birth that ‘proved’ I was born in the Philippines.”
Hmmm. Again, leaving aside the debate about just how illegal this sort of record juggling might be, let’s suppose the gentleman decided to ‘push through’ with that idea.
Neither my reader nor his well-meaning ‘fixer’ seems to realize that being born in the Philippines does not make you Filipino and thus eligible to own land.
You are a US citizen if born in the US, a Canadian if born in Canada, but the Philippines does not follow the same system for granting nationality. Where you are born has nothing to do with your citizenship in the Filipino legal sense. The nationality of you parents is what determines you nationality. So even if this fellow went ahead with the scheme that was offered to him, could he legally own and here in the Philippines? Not under the present constitution he couldn’t.
Moral of that story? If you decide to do something that skirts (or breaks) the law, make damn sure the outcome will lead to what you want … the potential ‘fixer’ in this case didn’t even know what law needed to be broken to solve the problem that his potential client faced. 😉
Anyway, I can’t offer any concrete guidance on this subject. If you want advice, my advice is no, never use a fixer, the outcome is too problematic and you might get more than you bargained for. But everyone’s situation is … well their own situation … so you go ahead and do what you feel is best. I’m an information junky. not a judge.