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First of all, my SEO, Search Engine Optimization, hates long titles such as “Norse Gods,” Jehovah Witnesses, & Vancouver Scott: 2020 Annual Report Iloilo Immigration.  Because I didn’t want to leave anything out of the title regarding my annual visit to our local Iloilo Bureau of Immigration Field Office, I decided to go with the long headline.

The Safer Alternative

Furthermore, before I deal with the “Norse God” issue at Immigration, I must first address the journey to Iloilo City from our island province of Guimaras. We’re not traveling on the pump boats from Guimaras’ Jordan Wharf to Iloilo City anymore.

The Aug. 3, 2019, Iloilo Strait tragedy took 31 lives when three pump boats capsized during a storm. We’ve been recently using the Yohan Express fast craft at the RORO, Roll-On, Roll-Off ferry dock, at Jordan, Guimaras. It’s safer than riding the motorized banca boats.

Yohan Express fast craft

Moreover, I can enter the fast craft via a ramp instead having to navigate the cumbersome steps from the dock to the pump boats. During low tide, it makes going up and down the dock stairs much more difficult. There is no guardrail to help an old geezer like me.

Ortiz Dock in Iloilo City

Ortiz Wharf Iloilo City

Hence, I informed my asawa of almost 20 years that I absolutely wanted to leave at 7:15 am to catch the  8:00 am Yohan Expresswhich leaves every hour from Guimaras until 10:00 pm.

Above all, the Yohan Express vessel has promptly left on time on the hour when we have used it. A rarity in a country conditioned to “Filipino Time.”

It takes us about 20-25 minutes to reach the wharf. While the Yohan Express has boarded passengers at the last minute, I don’t want to be one of those “last minute” passengers. Therefore, I like to get there at least 15 minutes early. I can board the air con section of the vessel and relax. The actual trip to Fort San Pedro in Iloilo only takes eight minutes.

Plans for an Early Iloilo City Arrival Run Amuck

However, my spouse was running late yesterday morning. Our former helper, out on sick leave, was supposed to return to work yesterday. As I had predicted, she didn’t come back. Consequently, my wife had to feed and bathe her Father, afflicted with Alzheimer’s, who lives in a nipa hut behind our home. Our niece Shaina, who lives with us, was feeding our eight dogs.

Lolo hanging out in Guimaras

Lolo, “Grandfather,” my wife’s Father

Dark clouds were threatening rain. If it rained, there was a good possibility that the pump boats wouldn’t operate. Because of the Iloilo Strait tragedy, the Coast Guard has been closely monitoring weather conditions. Therefore, the queue at the Yohan Express might be quite long if the motorized banca boats wouldn’t be allowed to traverse the strait.

I had already boiled the water in our dirty kitchen for our two thermos bottles, which we use for our coffee. The eight canines had bellies full of “Good Boy” dog food. My asawa was back in the house, having given her Father his breakfast and a bath. 

killer roams our pool area in philippines

“Killer,” the leader of the pack

However, my better half didn’t start putting on her make-up until 7:15, the time I wanted us to leave. I knew there was no way we would make it to the 8:00 Yohan Express departure. Furthermore, I wasn’t going to wait for the next departure time of 9:00 am.

The Iloilo City Immigration Office opens at 7:30 am. Even leaving Guimaras at 8:00 would mean we wouldn’t arrive at the MegaWorld location of the Field Office until after nine.

Sticky Rice Run and Heavy Rains

We finally left our house at 7:35 am. My wife, who is our designated driver, asked if we had time to stop by her sister’s place in Guimaras to drop off some sticky rice.

What! I agitatedly exclaimed, “It’s already 7:35 and it looks like it’s going to rain any minute. But we’re not going to make it to the Yohan Express in time so you might as well stop at your sister’s and hope the pump boats are running.”

My wife pulled up in front of her sister’s and honked our truck’s horn. Our 13-year-old nephew ran out of their house. My wife handed him the sticky rice. We sped off. It was now 7:50.

On the way to the wharf, it started raining! Thankfully, the rain stopped before we reached our parking lot at 8:05 am. I knew the Yohan Express had already left so we would have to take a pump boat after all.

Our regular lot attendants, however, were nowhere in sight! My wife honked the horn. Still no one appeared! I hopped out of the truck and asked a lady stationed at a shop next door if she knew where our guys were. One of them was at the Jordan Wharf delivering a parking lot client.

The skies continued to darken.

We were instructed to wait.

Finally, after several minutes, one of our attendants, Noel, came out. He had been in the shower. Thankfully, he was fully dressed. At that moment, Richard, the worker who had been delivering a customer to the wharf, also pulled up.

Richard jumped in the driver’s seat, and we sped off. There was a tremendously long line at the Jordan Wharf ticket office. I immediately went to the senior’s line and procured two tickets. We finally left the Jordan Wharf around 8:25 am.

jordan wharf in guimaras philippines

Jordan Wharf in Guimaras

The Iloilo City Arrival

The pump boats were once again using the Ortiz Wharf in Iloilo City. Parola Wharf is the alternate dock during the rainy season. My wife first had to make a stop at a local Chinese pharmacy to pick up some supplies. Dozens of jeepneys passed us by, none of them going past the pharmacy. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining, so we walked over to the pharmacy.

Even more troubling was the fact that we were having a difficult time trying to catch a jeepney to our next stop, SM Delgado, where we could catch a jeepney to MegaWorld. Furthermore, once we reached Delgado, there were no available jeepneys so we opted to take a taxicab.

We arrived at MegaWorld and walked over to the area where the Iloilo Immigration Field Office was located the year before when I had completed my 2019 Annual Report.

The Festive Walk Mall is part of the MegaWorld complex

However, now there was no one inside and the doors were locked! There was no signage on the door indicating a holiday closure. It was the day after New Year’s. I wasn’t very happy at this point. Was everyone still on holiday?

It took two hours to complete my Annual Report at the MegaWorld location last year. Now it seemed they were closed. I was extremely frustrated. However, we pressed on and asked some workers nearby if they knew why the office wasn’t open.

The office had moved! They were still in the MegaWorld complex but now were located on the 3rd floor as you enter “The MarketPlace” entrance. We went through the Market Place, got on the escalators, and reached the 3rd floor. As we turned right, we saw the Iloilo Immigration Field Office.  It was open!

The “Norse God” Guard

There was about a dozen or so people waiting in the office. A helpful security guard had me sign in and asked me what I needed. I informed him I was there to file my Annual Report. He took my Alien Registration Identification Card, or I-Card, along with my United States passport. He also handed me a card with the number “4” and escorted me into the main, air-conditioned office in front of an enclosed area where the Immigration staff was working.

My wife sat by me and we waited. However, I advised my wife that this could take a while so I suggested she go downstairs and do some shopping at The Market Place. She gladly took me up on that offer.

The usual rack of material from Jehovah’s Witnesses stood in a corner. Such material has been on display at the Iloilo Immigration Office for the past few years. I thought it odd that JW material would be displayed in a government office in a country that is predominantly Catholic.

Meanwhile, I looked up at the helpful security guard and noticed his name badge, “Odin.” Odin is, of course, the chief god of war in Norse mythology. I stood up, looked at his badge, and asked, “Where is your son, Thor?” A few foreigners nearby laughed.

Thor graphic courtesy of pixabay

The friendly security guard smiled as I remarked that he must have been asked that question a thousand times.

The Annual Report is completed

Things seemed much more organized at the new location this year. After about 15 minutes, I was called up to one of the windows where the Immigration officers were working. I was handed my passport and ACR-I card along with a printout detailing my ACR request and a listing of 300 pesos for the “Annual Report Fee” and the 10-peso charge for the “Legal Research Fee.”

Hence, only a total payment of about $6.20 in USD for the privilege of living in the Philippines. Furthermore, it is a privilege granted by the government of the Philippines. I never take this privilege lightly.

“Odin” directed me to a chair in which sat a foreigner with his number “3” card.  An Immigration Officer at a nearby counter called for “Number 3” to come up. Along with his Filipina companion, he walked over to the counter as I scooted over to the end chair. After a few minutes, “Odin” directed me to the counter.

The polite Immigration Officer asked me what country I was from. “The United States,” I replied.

He took out a folder for the United States and had me fill out my name and address on the folder. I filled out the information and asked if I could take some pictures. I wanted to inform the readers on my website about the office’s new location at MegaWorld. (However, I later discovered my camera is defective thus I’m not able to post any new pictures of the Field Office at this time.)

He immediately asked me if I had previously written about the Immigration Office’s move to MegaWorld. I informed him I had. Smiling, the Officer said he had seen that information on my website before and remarked that was a “free advertisement” for them. He then handed me a card with the number “10” so I could pay the cashier. I sat down and waited.

“Vancouver Scott” from Guimaras

After several minutes, “Odin” directed me to the Cashier’s Window as he turned away “Number 13” who was attempting to pay ahead of me. As I handed the cashier my 310 pesos, I remarked how smart I was to be married to a Filipina for almost 20 years and that I lived in Guimaras.

Another foreigner nearby, a tall, ruggedly good-looking man, approached me. It turned out that the man also lived in Guimaras and that he had been following my website for years. He informed me his name was “Scott.”

We shook hands and I asked him where in the States he was from. He advised me he was from Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. I apologized for mistaking him for an American (though he is, off course, a North American like me) and we chatted for a while.

We had never met in Guimaras before but assured each other that we would get together for dinner sometime. Scott lives in Nueva Valencia in Guimaras, home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. An extremely friendly young man and I look forward to seeing him again sometime in Guimaras.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses

After saying goodbye to my new expat friend, I walked outside and sat down on some benches right outside the office. I was gathering my paperwork and placing it in my “man purse” which I only bring along when I have important documents to carry.

A nice young Filipina lady asked me where I was from. “The United States,” I replied. Her husband was also from the States. He wasn’t in the Philippines at this time. We chatted. I told her I was married to a lovely Filipina for almost 20 years. I said I passed the time by writing about living in the Philippines on my website, “PhilippinesPlus.”

She informed me that she, too, had a website, and handed me a card. It was for the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I politely told her that I would probably not be checking that website out, as I was a “Born-Again” Christian.

I asked her if she had placed the Jehovah’s Witnesses material that I saw in the Iloilo Immigration Office. She said she hadn’t placed the material but some of her friends did. We chatted pleasantly for a few more minutes and I excused myself since I had to go to The Market Place to see my wife.

Overall, my 2020 Annual Report only took about 40 minutes. Much better than the previous year’s two hour wait. While it didn’t come close to the record 10-minute wait time in 2017, it was an overall positive experience. Moreover, I was able to meet some new friends and didn’t have to be concerned about filing my Annual Report for another year.

Reminder from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration

On January 2, 2020, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration reminded all registered foreigners in the country to report to the bureau in person or face sanctions for failing to comply.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said foreign nationals could make their annual report to the agency from the beginning of January 2020 until the end of February this year.

Under the 1950 Alien Registration Act, all foreigners who have been issued immigrant and non-immigrant visas and were issued alien certificate of registration identity card (ACR I-Card) are mandated to comply with the annual report within the first 60 days of every calendar year.

Failure to do so may result in fines, visa cancellation, or deportation.

Registered aliens may report to the bureau’s main office in Intramuros, Manila or the nearest participating BI field, satellite or extension office.

“Foreigners who are out of the country during the annual reporting period may make the report within 30 days from the date of their return to the country, provided they have valid re-entry permits,” Morente added.

(with reporting from the Inquirer.net)

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