Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 25 January 2017


The government has been making gains in easing what used to be burdensome, uncomfortable and time-consuming encounters between common citizens and the government for transactions. These involve the grant or renewal of licenses, passports, clearances, the payment of fees and access to pension and health benefits, or, in the case of some municipalities, the payment of real property taxes.

Such encounters were undertaken in government offices, through limited windows of services, where slow-moving lines build up for hours for a single service.

If multiple services were needed, one had to go from one government office to another, thereby multiplying the hardship and the frustration.

Routine transactions. There are many routine transactions with government that citizens have to secure or undertake. To get employed, an NBI (police) clearance is required. For official identification, an official birth certificate is needed. To secure a benefit from a government entity, full official documentations are required. Ordinary citizens have to get permits to drive an automobile or any special commercial vehicle. Members of the pension funds (SSS, GSIS, Pag-Ibig, PhilHealth) have to pay their premiums or secure certain benefits offered. The practice of profession requires renewal of licenses and payment of dues. People who travel abroad have to secure passports or to renew them periodically.

Such multitude of routine documentations happen with regularity and are part and parcel of the requirements of law in any orderly society.

The universality of such required transactions have built a huge demand that cramped facilities and manpower. For the ordinary citizen, the experience often was a harrowing and frustrating ordeal and has given government service a dirty name.

To cope with the attendant problems, the opening of clusters of small offices in different locations was a way out for the government agencies. Decentralization would make for more convenience for everyone.

Government centers in large shopping malls. Today, there are large privately-owned shopping malls where a number of government agencies hold space. Such outlets can process and approve as well as dispose of transactions that belong to the list of ordinary and routine transactions just mentioned above.

The process of consolidating such services into a single center did not immediately come to mind. Before the clustering, there was first the need to simply decongest and to decentralize the service.

The advent of computerization through the digital revolution has made many of the simplification and securing of information possible. The transaction times have been reduced by computers and central filing of information also simplified data retrievals and identifications.

Some government agencies initially realized they could rent space in private malls to process issuances of permits or to set up satellite offices in commercial centers.

NBI clearances and the renewal of driving permits were among the first agencies to move their services to commercial outlets and shopping malls. In time, other agencies followed suit.

Shopping mall operators themselves recognized the benefits of bringing government to the malls. Allowing these citizens to deal with government services in special kiosks brought in a steady flow of people traffic. That translated into customers for auxiliary services such as food outlets and shopping.

Whether government or mall operators realized it first, the integration of related government services in one center benefited all parties.

The Robinsons Malls were very keen on the business potentials of such malls and aggressively set up “Robinsons Mall Lingkod Pinoy Center”, which was designed as a one-stop destination for people who need to transact business with different government agencies.

Today, the typical Robinson government center houses the following offices: the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the PhilHealth, the Department of Foreign Affairs (for passport), the Land Registration Authority (LRA), Department of Tourism (DOT)

Equally aggressive in establishing government centers in their malls is the SM group. It has extensive services in some supermalls, such as SM Manila, SM Cebu, SM Pampanga, SM North EDSA and SM Aura.

For its part, and in the case of the passport approval and issuance functions of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the extensive demand for travel among Filipinos (either for work, tourism or business travel) has required a huge demand for passports and their renewal.

Partly to ease their work and to serve the public better, the foreign office has extensively gone to use the government centers of large malls in the country, the DFA undertook a private partnership (PPP) arrangement with major mall business groups – Robinsons, Ayala and SM – to expand mall-based passport services. The agency discovered that by decentralizing and partnering with the private sector, it could save on its own administrative overhead and agency costs.

Such offices offering passport services are across the country in key malls in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, including, of course, within the Metro Manila area.

Benefits. The availability of transacting government businesses in the country’s retail malls have made access to government services less burdensome.

From the standpoint of common citizens, the consolidation of services in the malls reduced the amount of chaotic experience and the elimination of long waits and frustration.

They also removed from the scene petty corruption and favoritism. Before, the former era of slow-moving lines for government services invited an industry of fixers to grow. These were people who came in-between as middlemen to facilitate transactions. Such facilitation exacted premiums to be paid and also corrupted the bureaucracy.

The improvement in rendering the service with speed and greater efficiency have created big savings for both the general public and government. They have helped to eliminate petty fixers and corruption.

Continuing inefficiencies. Even as I say all the above, some structural inefficiencies of government in performing their functions remain.

More than a month ago, I went to the SM North Mall government service center to renew my driver’s license. It took a short time to do it. I got my receipt and still retain my old driver’s license.

Because it is the Department of Transportation, heaven knows when my new license will be available for pickup, even though I am allowed to drive with my official receipt.

A week ago, I also got my passport renewal easily processed and done with at the Ali Mall in Cubao. I am certain to get the new passport by special delivery to my door in two weeks. The new passport could be made with even less time, with improved efficiency on the part of the DFA.