No problems at the immigration office. They took a little more than P10,000 from me and made a six-month visa extension official. Odd, but I seem to pay a different amount each time I go there. Six months ago it was 7K and change; one year ago it was more than 13K. Foreign visas, at any rate, have been reinstated; Duterte declared restrictions that limitet the tourist trade had to be lifted, because those restrictions were hurting the economy as much as anything else in these days of Covid.
The changes in price for the visa could well be due to changes made over the past several months in the various fees involved in the issuance of a visa, of course. But stories told to me by friends, and, well, my own experience, have informed me that corruption among the powerful and not so powerful in the Philippines is widespread. Kickbacks, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, book-cooking, expense-padding, nepotism, skimming, bribery, influence peddling, cronyism . . . are all alive and well in the islands.
You remember Mr. Sherwin, whose agency got me a car loan? Jheng received a call from him a couple of weeks ago in which he said it was urgent that I deposit in his account P45,000 (almost $1,000) due to unpaid payments and "collection fees" levied by Toyota. Jheng explained to him that the two payments not made during the period of ECQ (the strictest of quarantines) were transferred to the end of the payment period by the car company, as the company had made clear in a public announcement. "And what exactly are these 'collection fees'?" Jheng asked. Sherwin's answer was muddled and didn't make sense to Jheng. I wrote a terse email to Sherwin stating that Jheng and I kept careful records of our payments to him, and that we were looking for a lawyer to investigate this matter. Sherwin replied that he "respected" my decision to procure a lawyer, but that this was "not a big problem, really." Neither Jheng nor I have heard from him since.
Jheng is looking for a lawyer; we're both pretty certain Sherwin is an unsavory character. Moreover, his downtown office has closed, and we know that he is being investigated for business practices incommensurate with the consulting license he holds. Should he also be investigated for attempted extortion? A desperate person makes desperate mistakes. Yup, we need a lawyer.
To move on. Let me tell you of an experience I had four years ago, during my second school vacation in the Philippines. I was staying at Pacific Waves Resort about five miles north of Caloocan (pronounced Cal-o-O-can), where Jheng and Mich had an apartment -- they were working at a food processing plant there, while Lara, Janiah, and Aaron remained behind with grandparents in Cabanatuan and San Jose City. Jheng and Mich had spent a day and a night at Pacific Waves with me (I rented a room for them), and we were heading back to Caloocan the next day when it occurred to me that the last number of my rental's license plate forbade me from driving in Metro Manila on that day of the week. (Yes, this policy is still in effect; it is meant to reduce traffic in a very traffic-plagued city.) I asked Jheng and Mich if Caloocan were a part of Metro Manila. They both thought it wasn't.
But it was. Shortly after entering Caloocan we were pulled over by a traffic enforcement officer. Both of my friends told me hurriedly, before I opened the window, that either I could have the car impounded or I could hand over to the nice man P500. I pulled out a 500-note and stuck my hand out the window with it, smiling. The man gave me a sinister sneer and turned his back on the car. This is when I learned something about bribery etiquette. The women in hushed tones told me to hide it, fold it in a piece of paper, and Jheng pushed at me some paper she had ripped off a package. I folded up the yellow denomination, then folded the paper around it, allowing a small bit of yellow to show. The man gruffly accepted this and waved us on.
In the two or three miles from the Caloocan line to Jheng and Mich's apartment we were pulled over a total of three times, twice by traffic enforcement officers and once by a genuine pulis (policeman). The policeman was kind and jovial, unlike the other two actually willing to listen to Jheng and Mich's explanation that they did not know Caloocan was a part of Metro Manila. And the man gave us a motorcycle escort to the foot of Jheng and Mich's street, so that we would not be pulled over yet again. But like the other two, he accepted my P500 bribe. Fifteen hundred pesos in all, or thirty dollars -- not very much for a long-tenured school teacher from Massachusetts. But for Mich, who has a four-year degree in food services, it would have been three days' pay; for Jheng, it would have been nearly four days' pay.