Saturday, December 11, 2010

Of Veteran's Affair and Healthcare In the Philippines

Here in the Philippines, if you do not have the money to address your health concerns you could very well just die with your eyes open, waiting for death to come knocking at your door.  No assistance can be expected from government and the Philhealth share on the contribution is, in my opinion, laughable.

Nonetheless, the Philippine society itself provides for its own safeguards – that is, FAMILY! It is said that you often know how much loved and unloved you are if you have many relatives that will come to your assistance in time of need. In the case of being a parent, you know whether you have raised your children well, if they are, on their own, willing to foot the bill for your illness.  If you are neither, I guess you are just out of luck, because the government would care little or not at all if you died.

On the other hand, Article 294 of the  Philippine Civil Code requires support to be given in the following order: (1) from the spouse; (2) from the descendants of the nearest degree; (3) from the ascendants, also of the nearest degree; and (4) from the brothers and sisters.

Notwithstanding, hardly anyone files a case for support (except for child support) owing to the expensiveness of having an on-going court case.  Thus, a great majority of the indigent can go unsupported for years until they would die from neglect.  Which makes me wonder if a case for elder abuse and neglect can ever prosper here.  In the end of it all, its going to be all about family.

Which brings me to my husband (not that I consciously think of him as elderly, although he is a card-carrying Senior Citizen of the USA), he is certainly more fortunate.  To those who have expressed concern and sympathy for his plight in the last few months, I am glad to tell everyone he is doing much better.  We had already gone to three gastroenterologist ever since he had his stomach problem.  We had a whole abdominal ultrasound just two weeks ago (can't have a colonoscopy first until the inflammation goes down) and the doctor said there doesn't appear to be an abcess.  It appears that he has a gassy stomach that causes certain parts of it to spasm and bulge occasionally.  At this point, he does not feel any discomfort anymore, but we are still closely monitoring it as his left side still bulges occasionally.

Brought about by the expenses we have incurred over the past months due to various a sundry of minor ailments, I have taken it upon myself to find out what sort of healthcare he can receive from the U.S. government.  Before he came here, I had already come upon the information that he is entitled to health benefits from the U.S. Veteran's Affair, since he is receiving a service-connected disability pension for a disability that is rated 20%.  He sustained a back injury during his time in the U.S. Navy, which necessitated a major back operation.  But really, his health ailment now is not service-connected.

My initial communication with a call center agent of the U.S. Embassy led me to think he is not entitled to any non-service connected benefit at all with the VA Regional Office here in the Philippines.  It took me awhile to question that statement, after conferring with Dave Starr I thought I would give it another try. So I set up an appointment with the VA Regional Office in Manila.

Since we still lived a "traffic" away from Pasay City where the VA Office is located, and considering further that he had to be at the VA Office before 8 a.m., we booked a hotel near the area to save us the hassle of rushing to get to our appointment on time.

I initially thought it was next to the U.S. Embassy, but the map that they sent us helped me see that it was certainly more than a few blocks away from the U.S. Embassy.  It was in between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Economic Processing  Zone Authority.  From the outside, I couldn't even tell that it was a U.S. facility in the Philippines.  But the security measure inside certainly reminded me of the U.S. Embassy as we had to go through a metal detector and had to leave our camera and cellphones.

There I learned that my husband is entitled to some kind of "primary care" benefit - meaning the V.A. health facility will look after his general health, ensuring that his general health is addressed by consultations with various specialist.  Although the health benefit here in the Philippines does not cover hospitalization for non-service connected disability  and it does not cover also special diagnostic treatments like CT scans and colonoscopy, the really cool thing for me was they fill-up prescriptions! If you can recall, we are spending a small fortune on medicines especially for accupril.  So getting them to fill-up our prescription is a really big thing for me and will at least clear-up that budget allocation so that now it can be used to address diagnostic treatments not covered by V.A. and other minor surgeries like cataract surgery perhaps or dental implants.  If we ever need a major surgery we can go to the U.S. for that where he is entitled to full medical benefits with V.A. facilities. Other than that, he got his pneumonia and tetanus vaccine, and will get his flu vaccine on January.   Over-all the visit with V.A. lifted a weight off my shoulders.

If there is any lesson I have learned from the experience is always to question what anyone says about something (in this case the V.A. entitlement).  The truth was I already knew in my heart he was entitled to something even in the USVA RO in the Philippines, but I listened to someone else tell me he wasn't.  I had done enough of the due diligence to do research on the internet on official websites nonetheless, that I should have known I was right and someone else was feeding me with wrong information.




Friday, December 3, 2010

Dividing My Time

I have not written here for quite awhile.  Sadly because I have just been too busy trying to wrap this year up and get ready for next year.  But inspite my busyness and my inability to maintain this blog, readers of this blog may see me very soon in yet another blog.  Bob Martin's Living In the Philippines.  I would like to believe that that one is more an act of public service more than anything, and this one is a venue for my endless rantings and my incessant need to write.  In this blog site I have full freedom over its literally and intellectual content and even in the extent of how I want to indulge in some occasional melodrama.

However, if my mental acuity will permit it and if I can stay awake after a busy day of nothing but mental work, I may still write about something informational and of a legal nature.  But rest assured that most of my articles here would be more of a personal nature.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Anxious but Looking Forward to 2011

I wonder if you people know of any other person who plans their 2011 in November of 2010.  I guess I am one of the few I know of.  I got my 2011 planner and have already penciled out some plans for February 2011.  The most significant of this plan is my husband going back to the U.S. to take care of some things and one of those things include the Affidavit of Support.

We finally figured out what to do next (on or own, no U.S. immigration lawyer) after a phone call to the National Visa Center, which incidentally you cannot get them on the regular office hours. (U.S time that is).  They are as busy as hell! :p  We did however get to them one morning in the Philippines when we just got up and decided to try our luck calling them.

At this point, I am collating all the information on what documents we would need for the AOS, and whether or not we would meet the 125% poverty threshold  or we need to get joint sponsors. I have kind of casually tried to add up the figures in my head and it looks like we will be able to make it.  I just need to get the updated papers on the 401 (k) and the private retirement and I would have a more concrete idea on whether we can make it.

I already got the requirements for the renewal of my husband's ACR, having just fulfilled the first week requirement on the publication.  The total cost for the publication (for two successive Mondays to qualify for the two-week publication requirement) was P876.40. I didn't pay a single thing for the police report (take note of this if you ever need a police report from your local police station) and I didn't pay a single thing for the notarization of the Affidavit of Loss (it's usually between P50 to P100) as I had it notarized by a friend (thank God for friends who are notary publics). :) I do, however, owe her dinner one time.

We plan to visit the Veteran's Affair clinic before the month ends to get a new I.D. and to file the renewal for the ACR at the Bureau of Immigration.  I am persistent to have his ACR card renewed for two reasons: (1) for the possible new ACR card next year when his 13 (a) probationary visa expires; and (2) it has the ECC (emigration clearance certificate) in it, something he needs for his flight back to the U.S.  I want him to be ready with his Veteran's Affairs card before he leaves so that he can just fly in to the U.S. and have his health concerns addressed as soon as he lands.

I am still working on his "To-Do List" there and the timeline involved to finish everything so that he can be either back in time for the filing of a 13 (a) permanent visa OR my going to the U.S., whichever comes first.  At this point, even in my vacillation on going there, I am just leaving it up to God. My one concern is really to be where it would be best for my husband and his health.

It is hard to tell for sure what is best for us, I can only hope that whatever we choose to do that the Lord will help us along the way.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is Food Expensive In Metro Manila?

A few days ago, my husband and I got into this discussion while doing our nightly walk around the condominium compound.  We were on the discussion on why he thinks we are better off going back (to him) and just plainly going TO America for me (remember that I have never been there).   He said that the cost of living over here is expensive, using as an indicator the cost of food.  He says, over there, there are coupons that could save us so much money in buying food and that, among other things, over there fresh milk is in abundance, unlike over here where the fresh milk don't even taste anything like the ones over there.  I remind him that the only reason the food seems to cost more over here is that we are buying products average filipinos do not even consider "necessary".  Average filipinos don't even buy fresh milk, most make do with instant milk.

On the other hand, I actually think we have enough food for just a two-person household.  Our monthly grocery bill is at P8,000, while my mother and brother's grocery food bill is just half that of ours -- theirs is P4,000 a month.  Of course he makes a point about how we have healthier meals.  Although I also remind him, we waste food much more. :p  We have things in our refrigerator that has been there for months, while theirs run out every month. :p

We buy our groceries alternately from two stores - SM Hypermarket at SM The Block and Landmark at Trinoma.  Our average weekly grocery bill is at P2000, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Here is an example of prices at Landmark Trinoma as of November 3, 2010:

Rebisco 360G (wheat crackers) 63.10
SABA 425 G (canned mackerel) 41.30
SABA Pink Salmon 58.70
Ocean's Best (canned tuna) 29.85
Meadow's Fresh Milk (buy one take one) 114
Skippy (peanut butter- no fat) 144.90
Rejoice Shampoo (360 ml) 149.40
Listerine Mint (250) 133.15
Coke Light 48
Fried Chicken 155.60
Chicken Wings 106.60
Fresh Slice Mushroom 110
Tarragon 13
Gardenia Whole Wheat Bun 45
San Remo Spinach Fettucine 81.65
Cream Cheese 101.60
Hi-Fiber Wheat Bread 67

I didn't include the produce (vegetable and fruits) which we usually spend from between P300 to P500 a week's worth.  It's healthy, I admit though. :) But only if we get to eat it before they spoil.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cost of Being Cheap

I have to confess, I am kuripot. It is the Ilocano in me that makes me stingy with money. Also, I have known how it is to be hungry and needy at one point in my life. Life has been kinder to me since then but it has certainly made  me more prudent with money.  My Asawa always says I have only one criteria when buying/considering anything -- PRICE!  It is funny but partly true.

So why am I talking about this now? Well, because there was a lesson I learned just a weeks ago when my husband and I visited the doctor.  Since I had been worried sick about his diverticulitis, I have decided that the best place to go is what most people perceive to be the best hospital this side of Metro Manila -- St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City.

We went to Dr. Conrado De Castro and he prescribed Ciprofloxacin and Flagyl.  Apparently, the earlier doctor prescribed the wrong medicine, an antibiotic not specifically meant to address diverticulitis! You can say nonetheless that we were disappointed.  Considering the earlier doctor was also a gastroenterologist, it is a bit disappointing to think she didn't know what should have been a basic prescription for a basic ailment.

So, even though the colonoscopy from the said clinic/medical center is cheaper, we are thinking of two options 1) getting a colonoscopy from St. Luke's or 2) going to the U.S. for a colonoscopy from VA health facilities (my Asawa has a service-connected disability of 20%).

When we asked the doctor, however, how much a colonoscopy package would cost (doctor's fee and use of hospital facilities), he said that they have a package that covers not only colonoscopy but other procedures.  They are a bit pricey and at present not within our price range, but in 1 to 2 months, I think we can afford it.  As long as my husband's condition does not worsen within that time, we can consider getting a colonoscopy (plus other procedures) from St. Luke's.

We are particularly interested in the Cancer Screening Package for 60 year old and above.  The break down of procedure is as follows:

LABORATORY STUDIES
CHEMISTRY

  • Blood Chemistry (CHEM 1)
    • Glucose (FBS)
    • Creatinine
    • Uric Acid
    • Cholesterol
    • Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
    • Triglycerides
    • HDL
    • LDL/VLDL
    • SGPT/ALT
    • Alkaline Phosphatase
    • Total Bilirubin
    • Total Protein (A/G Ratio)
    • Creatinine Phosphokinase
    • SGOT/AST
    • LDH
SEROLOGY
  • Alpha Fetoprotein
  • Cancer Antigen 125 (for female only)
  • Carcino Embryonic Antigen
  • Carbohydrate Antigen 19-9
  • PSA (for male only)
CELLULAR IMMUNOLOGY
  • HPV-DNA Test (for Female Only)
HISTOPATH
  • Pap Smear (for Female Only
MICROSCOPY
  • Fecal Occult Blood Qualitative
X-RAY STUDY
  • Chest X-ray (PA)
BREAST EXAMINATIONS
  • Mammography
  • Breast Ultrasound
ULTRASONIC EXAMINATIONS
  • Gall Bladder
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
  • Spleen
  • Prostate (for Male Only)
ENDOSCOPY
  • Colonoscopy
RATES:
Inclusive of Professional Fees
(Net of Senior Citizen's Discount)
Male                 44,700
Female              49,400

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Responsible Blogging

Yesterday, while at work I was pouring over an extremely long Decision, and a friend of mine (also a lawyer and belonging to the same office) called my attention over a Manifestation that cited a Civil Service law/jurisprudence from a blog.  I was surprised, certainly, since the one who wrote the blog was a colleague of mine from my former office.

I went to look at the blog and found out that he clearly stated in the title of the blog itself that it is unofficial, but the lawyer who saw the said blog site conveniently forgot to state that in his pleading.  Very unethical if you ask me, but it lead me to thinking about my blog and instances when I have interpreted the law.  While I cite the law, in some instances, there was one blog post that I endeavored to interpret the law.  This was different from other blog posts, which although they dealt with the Law, I cited the source and was careful to quote it verbatim. So I already deleted that one blog post that I interpreted the law.

My job now primarily revolves around giving legal opinion, and I have gotten more cautious about it.  I have been burned before, one when I was too eager to please someone or one when I was thinking this is how so-and-so would want me to render this opinion.  And I have realized in the end the ultimate responsibility falls on the person whose signature is on the paper.

So now I digress, the simple lesson I learned from my friends experience is to be careful in blogging or giving out my opinions even in comments on other blog sites.  Opinion is cheap but the price it would cost the fool hardy person who follows you is not worth the momentary elation you got from thinking you were so smart.

So now I will endeavor to write my disclaimer soon...  In the meantime, I reiterate Caveat Emptor.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Health Woes ... Again!

After about a month of my husband's stomach problems, even after having gone to the doctor for antibiotics. We are on the look-out again for a better doctor.  It is not that we distrust our present doctor, maybe it is just because she doesn't seem to feel the same urgency I feel right now -- that there must be something else that can be done other than to wait.  Although she did say that the next step may be an IV drip so that my husband can get the antibiotic intravenously.  And now I am beginning to think about how much it would cost us for the hospitalization.

The problem is, my husband has no money apart from his pension and most of it is eaten up on living expenses and medication (P8,000 worth monthly on maintenance medicines), so certainly he does not have money extra for hospitalization.  He has money tied up in the US on his 401 K and private pension, but how soon will it even be possible to get to them.  Ultimately I will need to come up with the money in the mean time.  It would set me back by a few thousand pesos and if the ailment is as bad as my worst-case scenario, ultimately, not even I may be able to afford it.  I would need to bring him to the US or I hope the US immigration will let me.

But I know it is better to address it now, while the symptoms are just fresh.  I would just have to accept the reality that it has to be done.

Considering that I have a health plan that covers me for P80,000, the office can cover me for P60,000 and I even have a half million critical illness insurance, how I wish it is remotely possible to transfer all these benefits to him, for him to enjoy.  But sadly I can't.. and I can only hope we can address his problems before they get worse.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Health Concerns .. The Continuing Saga

Being into around nine months in my husband's stay in the Philippines, the MAJOR (MAJOR) concern is still and will always be his health.  Now don't get me wrong, my husband is not disabled, or incapacitated in any way, but he certainly has health issues that require constant monitoring, and thus an equivalent allocation in expenditure.

As you know, a few months ago, I attempted to get my husband into my health plan.  I was fully aware that most of his pre-existing conditions would not be covered (i.e. he had a nephrectomy because of renal carcinoma around 1992, a back surgery, and a high blood pressure).  These are things I am fully aware of, but my only purpose in getting him into my health plan was to ensure that any other medical conditions brought about by his stay in a new land, can be addressed if it ever happens.  I wanted to be able to ensure that he is well taken cared of if let's say he contracts dengue, meets into a traffic accident, etc.  But apparently, because of old-time pre-existing conditions (his nephrectomy is more than 20 years old!), he was declined by my health plan. 

I really get irritated with health insurance, they always want to insure those who hardly need it.  I for one have had my present health plan for the last six years, and I have never once gotten hospitalized.  They wouldn't even cover pregnancy if I ever should get pregnant.  Honestly, their declining my husband is really what I just needed to look for another health plan that would offer better coverage for myself, and will allow coverage for my husband even to a limited extent.

With all these health concerns, I always adhere to the maxim that prevention is better than cure, thus, we spend on whatever diagnostic procedure is required to ensure that all his health conditions are well-monitored.  Which brings to mind the necessity of budgeting for diagnostic procedures and medicines apart from the maintenance medicines.  Since my husband has no medical coverage, there is also a need to have emergency medical money to cover for medical expenses.  My estimate is the safe amount would be around P100,000.  They would cover for any emergency medical expense but would certainly not cover such things as a heart bypass which I heard would cost from half a million to one million pesos, depending on the hospital you want to have the operation in.

Another matter that has come to my attention, is the excessive sugar in the Filipino diet.  My husband doesn't have a high blood sugar, but since he lived here, his blood sugar has gotten slightly elevated.  I think it is primarily due to most of the Filipino food products containing sugar.  Although my husband carefully reads the ingredients in anything he buys, apparently some of the information in the products are misleading.  I guess you can say there isn't really any truth in advertising here! :p

At present we are working on getting a colonoscopy.  But we have had to wait until his colon relaxes (he is in a liquid or easily-soluble diet for a few days) and the inflammation subsides.  

In this regard, I am beginning to think we have to seriously think about going back to the U.S., if only to ensure that he would get some form of assistance for his medical conditions.  

P.S. On the VA health plan, unfortunately only his service-connected disability is covered.  Non-service connected health concerns are not covered in the Philippine VA centers. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

LOST

No, this is certainly not about the series on T.V.  I don't even watch any T.V. show regularly to know what is happening there. This is about the consternation with, yet acceptance of the fact that my sweet, loving and totally adorable Asawa Pogi lost his ACR card! :p (Do you note the tongue-in-cheek way I said that?)

After weeks, if not months of actually trying to find time to do these errands, it is a bit disconcerting to think that we actually have to do it again.  Sadly, the procedure in getting the replacement ACR card is even more laborious than the first one, which only required twice a visit to the Bureau of Immigration, and the first visit can even be done once you get the approval on your 13-A visa.

What also makes it a bit heartbreaking is knowing that the card is valid only for this year, considering that it gets renewed next year when he gets issued a permanent resident visa under 13-A.  Sigh... I guess that's life.

Here are among those required to get an ACR card:
All registered aliens, including their dependents, who have been duly issued paper-based ACRs are required to replace their ACRs with the hi-tech microchip-based ACR I-Card.
All aliens who have been duly issued immigrant or non-immigrant visa and all other aliens who are required to register under the Alien Registration Act are required to register and apply for the ACR I-Card. They are the following:
         Native-Born
         Permanent residents under:
                 a. Section 13 and its sub-sections
                 b. Republic Act Nos. 7919 and 8274 (Alien Social Integration Act of 1995)
                 c. Executive Order No. 324 (series of 1988)
                 d. Note Verbale No. 903730 dated Sept. 17, 1990 between Philippines and India
         Temporary residents under:
                 a. BI Law Instruction No. 33 (Series of 1988)
                 b. BI Law Instruction No.13 (Series of 1988)
                 c. BI Law Instruction No. 48 (Series of 1988)
                 d. BI Memo Order No. ADD-01-038 (series of 2001)
                 e. BI Memo Order No. ADD-02-015 (series of 2002)
          Temporary visitor under Section 9(a), PIA –one who is coming for business or pleasure or for reasons    of health if his stay exceeds six (6) months
          Treaty trader under Section 9(d), PIA
          Temporary student under Section 9(f), PIA
          Pre-arranged employee under Section 9(g), PIA
          Such other aliens as may be required by law to register
          For those who are required to register but exempted from immigration fees, they may opt to avail of the ACR I-Card subject to payment of the card fee.


The requirements for the re-issuance of a lost ACR Card are the following:
  1. Duly filled-up application form
  2. Letter request
  3. Affidavit of Loss
  4. Police Report
  5. Publication ( two consecutive weeks )
Take note that the above ACR card also serves as the Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC), Re-entry Permit (RP) and Special Return Certificate (SRC) of the holder upon payment of the required fees.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Upside and Downside to Close Family Ties

My mother is the eldest child of a big family (12 children) born in the province of Bicol.  Ten of the children were girls (my Aunties) and my doctor Auntie used to say that they all went to Manila because their father (my grand father) didn't want to send them to school because they would only get married and get pregnant later on.  They all relocated to Metro Manila and went on to finish College producing one lawyer, one doctor, one architect, one civil engineer (an Uncle who went on to build his own construction company in the U.S.), a nurse, an accountant, and several teachers.

My mother was and still is very close to her family my Aunties.  And I grew up being at one time also close to my cousins.  We spent our childhood together playing games in our Auntie's house, and had really nice All Soul's Day, Christmas and New Year's day celebrations.

When my father decided to leave my mom and us (my sister and brothers) sometime in College, it was my Aunties who took the cudgels of sending us to school.  I have to admit, my graduating from my undergraduate course was due in large part to the financial support my family and I received from my Aunties.

During law school, their financial support to my mother who was then a public school teacher, also helped me spend for my law school.  If not for them, I would have been forced to support my family myself with what little I earned from my first jobs.

At any rate, my sister graduated Computer Engineering and is now working in the U.S., and my other brother is now in a big pharmaceutical firm as a supervisor.  Life has been kinder to us since then.

On the other hand, my cousins receiving the full support of my rich Aunties, are at present unemployed and receiving unemployment from the U.S. government.  But really, with their mother owning a construction company here in the Philippines they really don't need to burden the U.S. government with their inability to get a good job, either there in the U.S. or here in the Philippines.  It is just that they are used to living-off their wealthy mothers that they don't seem to know any other life than that.

I often wonder when they will crawl out of their mother's wings and realize that there is more pride from learning to become independent and earning your own money.  It is even more heart-warming to be the one GIVING the money than being the one taking it, but they seem to have gotten used to this set-up they think it is normal and there is no other life they can live apart from that.

One other cousin of mine got pregnant at 18 just right after a really expensive debut that her mother threw for her.  Now, 28 she can choose to leave her children to her mother who is now in the U.S. and remain unemployed for God knows how long, because "her mother and every other relative in the U.S." will take care of her children.

And how about my other cousin who is herself a lawyer.  First thing she did with her salary is buy a car on installment and her mother now "semi-retired" is kind of "forced" to work some more as a consultant in order for her children to continue to live the life they have grown accustomed to.  She also accompanies her mother (or maybe persuades her mother) to go to these extravagant out-of-the-country trips, so that someone can pay for her way.

And just to be fair and not to make it sound like all the bad apples are in someone else's family, how about my unemployed brother who has not held a job since maybe 5 years ago, and even then he could hardly keep that job.  He has gotten so used to my being around and financing the family's expenses that he has relegated himself to the reality that I will always be there to provide for him even in his old age.

The reality of it all, all these individuals are running under the notion that there will always be some family who is going to cover their sorry asses and take care of them no matter what.  No matter how silly or stupid the choices they have made in their lives, someone else is going to answer for their mistake and poor choices.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Granvilles Visit Manila

As some of you know, my husband and I celebrated his birthday last weekend. Since we had some business we had to attend to near the U.S. Embassy (to get his ACR Card and to go to the Veteran's Affairs), I decided it was also the opportune time for he and I to visit Intramuros (the historical site of Manila). More particularly we went to the Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago. We could have gone to more places through the Hop on and Hop off tour, but I realized that with the way we move, we would not be making the most of the tour.

In regard to the tour of Fort Santiago, unless you are going there in a group, riding the horse driven carriage is not as interesting as going around Fort Santiago on foot.  Maybe it is just a preference on my part, but I certainly liked going around the place not on the horse-driven carriage. :) Just my take.  Entrance to Fort Santiago itself was a measly P75, worth dropping by if you are anywhere within Manila.

Also, I think the souvenirs are over-priced. You can buy them cheaper at S.M. or Landmark! ;)
Here are some of the photos from our trip:

At the Manila Cathedral (a church of my youth)

Consoling Jesus
At Fort Santiago

Beside "Mi Ultimo Adios" (a poem I memorized in College, don't ask me now if I still have it memorized)


Memorial for the Filipinos and Americans who died during WWII

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Still in the Rat Race

Unlike most Amerasian couple living in the Philippines, ours is a different set-up in that I am still working and my husband is retired. Although I am less busy now than I was three years ago when I headed the legal division of the Regional Office (NCR) of a quasi-judicial agency, lately my life has gotten busy again. My work load consists of three types: case-related reviews, pleadings before appellate courts and rendering legal opinions on both internal and external issues to the office. My office now is closely connected to the head of our agency and consequently if my boss has more problem, I have more problem.

Also, our office has been understaffed by two lawyers: one is on her 6-month leave due to her pregnancy, and another is, well let's just say she is indisposed. :p So the lawyers who are present really gets loaded up with more work.

On the other hand, when I am at home I multi-task. I do the laundry while I clean the house, or clean the house while I do some research on the internet, and on the side I sit beside my husband on the bed. I guess you can say I do not sit still very well.

Like most working wife (to some mother), I feel guilty leaving my husband at home. Moreover, I feel guilty I can't always take him to different places apart from the nearby mall. This weekend, his birthday, we are thinking of having a Manila tour so that I can introduce Manila to my husband.

I wish sometimes I can spend more time with him than I am able. But until I get out of this rat race, I will have to grit my teeth and hope I can finish all my work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cost of Healthcare

If there has been of great concern to me even before my husband moved to the Philippines is the cost of keeping my husband healthy.

After 6 months of being here, I can give a rough estimate of how much some procedure costs.

When my husband's blood pressure shot-up some time around April, before we were able to get the right concoction of medicines that were available in the Philippines, we had a basic annual check-up done, e.g. CBC, lipid profile, x-ray, etc. and it costed roughly P5,000 even with a health card that gives us 15% discount on procedures.

Just lately when my husband was suspecting that his prostate is enlarged (it turned out it wasn't), we had several tests done. The following are the breakdown on the procedures, with the 15% discount already applied:

PSA Total (Prostate Specific Antigen) - P2448
Routine Analysis - P209.10
Bun - P303.45
Creatinine - P303.45
Uric Acid - P303.45
KUB Prostate - P2226.15
TotaL - P5793.60

Since we have isolated that it doesn't have anything to do with prostate, we are looking into getting a colonoscopy. At present, I haven't asked around yet except the ones I have gotten off the internet. I heard that a procedure like that would cost P20,000 in St. Luke's, QC, and P35,000 in St. Lukes, Global City. I asked with Healthway, and they only gave me the quote on the use of the machine which is P3,000 ++, they say I have to ask the doctor how much he/she would charge for the procedure. De los Santos hospital said the same thing, I would have to ask the doctor.

Since I have had much experience in bringing my closest of kin to hospitals (my mother specifically who was hospitalized when she had a heart attack October 2008), medical cost has always been a great concern for me. My mother had both of her eyes operated for cataract, each eye costing me around P25,000. When she was hospitalized for heart attack, the total bill costed P80,000 for 5 days of stay (3 days spent in an ICU), which I guess wasn't as half bad, if she had stayed in some other more expensive hospital. But San Juan De Dios Hospital (for those living near Manila Bay)is a pretty good hospital with doctors also holding clinics at St. Lukes. It is run by nuns who are devoted to quality health care and has even acquired ISO certification. Our cardiologist and endocrinologist both also hold clinics at St. Lukes.

At present, whenever my husband needs to visit a doctor we pay P400 for a specialist (per visit)and if it is just a general practitioner, we get to see one for free for our health card (the health card for Healthway cost only P1,500 annually, if you pay P1800 for an annual, you get a free annual check-up).

But right now I am working at getting him on to my private health plan with FortuneCare. It will not cover pre-existing diseases but it will certainly cover consultations, hopitalizations, and basic annual check-ups for other things that are not pre-existing. Also dental extractions, fillings, and re-cementation are for free. They give a 20% discount for other dental procedures. My husband has alot of pre-existing conditions, I know, and that may be the biggest expense in terms of healthcare, but at least any other thing apart from pre-existing conditions that may crop up will be covered by FortuneCare, e.g. dengue, accidents.

I myself am covered by my office for hospital expense up to P60,000. My health plan (just semi-private) covers me up to P160,000 and I have a health insurance that would pay me half a million if I ever have a critical illness.

The cost of semi-private annual coverage for me is just P7,440 and for my husband, P11,215. Not bad, huh? But as I said, with many pre-existing for him.. it's practically useless. And also even for me, it's just P160,000 coverage. I can't also be admitted at St. Luke's, Capitol Medical Center and The Medical City. Of course if I got the private coverage I can get into those hospitals. A semi-private coverage is just P800 room a day, anything extra is out-of-the-pocket already. So I am still thinking of getting extra coverage for hubby.

On the other hand, I think he is qualified to be covered by Veteran's Affairs since he has a service-connected disability (just 20%). I am still studying the possibility of this and the extent of coverage, so I will keep everyone posted. Anyone who has information on this can also leave me a comment to expedite my study. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Maid in the Philippines

I have been down with a cold the last few days, and have not done our laundry for the last two weeks (we went out last weekend to be with relatives). Which means that as of today, I have a mountain of a laundry. On top of that our 36-square meter, one-bedroom unit certainly needs some cleaning.

But since I am coughing profusely, much of the chores have been left undone. Luckily, in the cooking department, my husband is an able cook. But in the cleaning and laundry I have not been of any help.

I guess if anything else, I can always bring the laundry to the nearby laundry shop which will do my 5 kg laundry for roughly a little more than P200 ($4). The problem sometimes is if you chanced upon a laundry shop that doesn't do their job well, you can lose a piece or two, or have small holes on t-shirts (like my husband had a couple of weeks ago). On the other hand, I am no goddess of laundry, and maybe somebody else can do better than me. :p

In the matter of cleaning our small living space, I have asked one janitor in the office before to clean our entire place (36 sq m) for P500 ($10). I can also do that when I am pretty busy.

But lately, I have been considering getting a maid. I can surely use the extra time off after work to myself. I do a lot of planning/thinking after work, and I need the luxury of time to do that.

On the other hand, I hate having a stranger in my home, and at 36 sq m, there is not much you can do about maintaining privacy and avoiding one another. I guess, we can always move some place else with a bigger living space but I like the security that a condominium can offer. Also, our condominium unit is in a complex which allows us just to go outside our unit and buy some essentials in the store nearby which is within the complex itself. We do not have to worry that just by going to the nearby store, a stranger can follow us around and plot to rob us. I guess that sounds a little phobic, but I just do not want to risk my husband's safety. Everyone thinks foreigners have so much money. They certainly have more than what the average filipino has, but they shouldn't be fair game to robbers because of that.

Also having a maid who is not a relative compromises ones security. You do not know the kind of people you are letting in your house and whether when you leave, they would let someone in. Again that sounds phobic, but better safe than sorry. I have two officemates in this year alone who had their houses robbed, and the suspects were workers they hired when they had repairs/renovations done in their houses. With every stranger you let in the house, and with them knowing you have a foreigner inside the house, you put each other at risk.

On the other hand, if I ever get one, I will get from an officemate of mine who gets from the women in her province. I know she would not risk people she knows by her referral, she herself being a lawyer.

So what is the average rate for maids here in Manila? I would say from P2,000 up ($43 up). And that doesn't count social security contributions. Of course alot of people don't necessarily follow the mandated social security benefits, but honestly, if your maid gets sick, that social security benefit can save you the money you will end up paying for their hospitalization.

I recall one time when my mother was hospitalized for heart attack, we were in a private hospital, and there was this maid who was suffering from high blood sugar -- 200 ++ I think. And the most unfortunate thing was her employer left her to fend for herself. It was her boardmates who took her to the hospital. It was sad and unfortunate, and what could have been resolved with a little less stinginess and a few pesos worth of contribution to SSS.

Here is some of the breakdown for employer's contribution to SSS:

Salary Range Salary Employer Cont. Employee Cont. Total
1,000.00 - 1,249.99 1000 70.70 33.30 104.00
1,250.00 - 1,749.99 1500 106.00 50.00 156.00
1,750.00 - 2,249.99 2000 141.30 66.70 208.00
2,250.00 - 2,749.99 2500 176.70 83.30 260.00
2,750.00 - 3,249.99 3000 212.00 100.00 312.00
3,250.00 - 3,749.99 3500 247.30 116.70 364.00
3,750.00 - 4,249.99 4000 282.70 133.30 416.00
4,250.00 - 4,749.99 4500 318.00 150.00 468.00
4,750.00 - 5,249.99 5000 353.30 166.70 520.00
5,250.00 - 5,749.99 5500 388.70 183.70 572.40
5,750.00 - 6,249.99 6000 424.00 200.00 624.00
P.S. the minimum wage for domestic helpers now is P1000. That is in the same law.

Likewise, those who are SSS (private employees)/GSIS (government employees) members are automatically enrolled to Philhealth under R.A. 7875. Otherwise coverage in Philhealth is compulsory.

The Philhealth employer and employee contributions can be found in the Philhealth website.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Intent to Return (Animus Revertendi)

Domicile as I have come to know in my early studies of law is not synonymous to residence. You can be a resident of another country (let's say the Philippines) and yet still retain the U.S. as your domicile. The determining factor as I have come to learn then was the intent to return or in latin, "Animus Revertendi". There could be many badges of ones intent to return -- like maintaining real property in your place of domicile, maintaining investments, maintaining a bank account, etc.

You may ask why my sudden interest on the subject. Well, we are on the next stage of our U.S. visa process, and inspite that we haven't received mail yet from NVC (we changed the address to a US mailbox), I have decided to do advance reading on the subject. At this point, we are about to collate documents for the Affidavit of Support and I am wondering if my husband is qualified owing to the residency (domicile) requirement provided therein. Although the website I am looking at appears to use it interchangeably, the definition was more clearly laid down in a separate website I found.

Subject: 1-864 Affidavit of Support Update
No. 4 - Domicile

Ref.. (A) State 228862 (B) State 211673

xxx

Domicile Defined

4. The new regulations define domicile as follows:
'Domicile means the place where a sponsor has a
residence, as defined in section 101(a)(33) of the
Act in the United States, with the intention to maintain
that residence for the foreseeable future, provided,
that a permanent resident who is living abroad
temporarily shall be considered to be domiciled in the
United States if the permanent resident has applied for
and obtained the preservation of residence benefit under
section 316(b) or section 217 of the Act and provided further,
that a citizen who is living abroad temporarily shall be
considered to be domiciled in the United States if the
citizen's employment abroad meets the requirements of section
319(b)(1) of the Act." (Note: "The Act' refers to the INA.)

Residence Defined - INA Section 101 (a) (33)

5. Section 101(a)(33): The term "residence" means the
place of general abode; the place of general abode of
a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in
fact, without regard to intent.

6. To be considered as having a principal residence
in the United States, individuals must demonstrate
that their sojourn abroad is temporary and that they
have maintained ties to the United States. They
can demonstrate compelling ties through a convincing
combination of the following types of actions:
voting in U.S. State or Federal elections, paying
U.S. income taxes, maintaining property, a residence
or a permanent mailing address in the U.S., maintaining
bank accounts or investments in the U.S., etc.

Qualifying Overseas Employment - INA
Section 319(b)(1)

7. Section 319(b) (1) defines qualifying employment abroad
as follows:

xxx

What Does it Mean?

8. To qualify as a sponsor, a petitioner who is
residing temporarily abroad must have a principal
residence in the U.S. (i.e. a place in the U.S.
to which he or she intends to return - the definition
of domicile in para 4 includes the issue of
intent) and/or work in one of the categories listed
in para 7. Legal permanent resident sponsors
must further demonstrate that they have maintained
their LPR status. A U.S. citizen or legal
permanent resident spouse or dependent who has
maintained a residence in the U.S. and/or whose
spouse/parent works in one of the categories listed
in para 7 would also qualify as a sponsor.

9. Many U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents
reside outside the United States on a temporary basis,
usually for work or family considerations. Temporary
is a relative term and may actually cover an extended
period residing abroad. As long as the sponsor has a
residence in the U.S., as defined in paras 5 and 6, to
which he or she intends to return, and/or if he or she is
employed per para 7, the sponsor can be considered to be
domiciled in the U.S.


So do you think my husband qualifies? I think he does -- his U.S. property remains under his name, we are still paying property tax for that, he has a U.S. bank account and his investments (private and public retirement) are all still there.

So in the end if USCIS makes it difficult I will make a case for why he still has his domicile in the U.S.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Step Forward.. But Feet Not out of the Door Yet

So we finally paid it... $470 to the National Visa Center. Inspite that I have spent sometime trying to analyze the pros and cons of going to the U.S. and leaving my profession; I honestly have not made any final decision yet.

As far as I am concerned, I am just making certain that the option is there if we choose to take it. There's no point in saying NO to it right now. Nothing is carved in stone and things that seem so great here now, may not even be that appealing in the future.

I think a great deal of my decision is still wrapped around trying to conceive. We aren't finished trying yet, and I am giving myself a year and a half to give it our best shot. After that I will set my sights into another goal but until that time, I will make it my number one goal.

On the side I am studying the next step to our U.S. spouse visa requirement. That is my job in our household, to figure out the legal requisites for everything, i.e. 1) legal requirements to getting married in the Philippines; 2) visa requirements for a foreigner to stay in the Philippines; and 3) spouse visa requirements in ths U.S.

Yes, you read it right. I am in-charge of even the spouse visa requirements. When we first started going together and first started with a Fiance visa petition, I gave my husband (then fiance) full reign in getting everything together in the petition department. My husband is an intelligent man, having graduated from the University of Michigan in Flint. So I naturally assumed he could figure that out -- well, I was wrong. Our petition was dismally denied and so was the subsequent appeal. I learned then that I couldn't blame him for not knowing the procedure. I think, he was just like most Americans, he thought America was going to give his wife a visa just because she is his wife. That is certainly far from the truth, and so far USCIS has been more interested in getting our money than in caring about whether we get together or not.

So eventually, I was the one who was in-charge of putting the Spouse visa petition together. I read up on it on the internet, and put the package (for filing) together. All that my husband had to do was sign it, mail it, and pay for the petition. Well, the petition was granted. So we are slowly plodding the next stage.

I still feel I need to read more and be careful as to who I take advice from. I always try to check if the website I am looking at is current, and if the ones giving the advice is actually giving just an opinion based on nothing more than perception, or if the opinion is based on experience backed by legal knowledge and facts.

Someday I may come up with my own step-by-step procedure to the visa process (U.S. and Philippines). But until then I will be cautious to always put a caveat in my post --- take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fork in the Road

July is a significant month for us, it is the time we re-activate our pending spouse visa application with US Immigration. Our petition has been approved a year ago, but we stopped at the point where we need to pay the Choice of Agent fee and the Affidavit of Support Fee - $470.

Right now, I have to say I really am 50-50 with pushing through with the spouse visa application. I have eight years of practice of law already in this country, and I am turning 40 next year (*blush*). So I wonder if I even want the hassle of starting over again in a place I have never been in.

Aside from that, I have just started really living my life - with my husband. I wonder if I want to continue that life with so many unknown variables - a different job and a different country. Here in the Philippines I am in my element and my credentials are fairly good enough to land me a comfortable job. Over there my U.P. credentials would probably not count any and I would forget about being an attorney for awhile; at least until I pass the bar. There is so much more unknown there for me. Aside from the fear of the effect of a recession to a newly arrived immigrant.

On the other hand, I wonder if by staying here I deprive my Asawa of good healthcare. I also wonder if by staying here I deprive myself even of the opportunities that would not be available for me here -- a higher-paying job and survivorship benefits. Also if we have kids I also wonder if by staying here, I would also deprive them of opportunities that could be available for them there.

Another thing I am considering is the loss of my license to practice law here if I acquire US Citizenship. Filipino citizenship is a necessary requirement to practice law in the Philippines. Even assuming that I can make use of the Dual Citizenship law, would I not have to initially relinquish my Filipino citizenship upon acquiring US citizenship and just subsequently re-acquire it? Does that mean I have to lose my license initially? Of course I am kind of thinking about all these things out loud. Eventually, I will have everything kind of charted in a kind of pros and cons thing where I can make a more careful evaluation of our options.

There are also so many advantages to staying here. I feel so much better raising children here (if we can still have one). I feel they can turn out more like the way we would want them if they were raised here. I don't know... but what do you think?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Better Living Through Chemistry... and of course Dieting

Three months into my husband's stay in the Philippines, the medicines which he brought with him had already run out. So we went to the doctor at Healthway at SM the Block and got a prescription for the same medicines. Well, maybe not exactly the same medicines, as it turns out, some medicine wasn't available locally and although all four of the blood pressure medicine was available they were not available in the same dosage.

The generic metoprolol was available in the exact same dosage, and the brand we were prescribed with was Neobloc and it didn't cost so much -- P3.75 for 50 mg.

My husband's second medicine was a combination diuretic and blood pressure medicine - Triamterene and Hydrochlorothiazide. Unfortunately, no such concoction exists in any national or local pharmacy. I have asked three drug stores already -- the big Mercury Drug, the Generic Drugstore and MedExpress. None of them carried Triamterene. So we have only Hydrochlorothiazide, and it cost P4.50 for 50 mg.

The last two were the costlier ones. The Diovan which was prescribed to us for 160 mg. costed around P60++ I think. We got a discount card which gave us 40% discount on our prescription.

The most expensive one was Accupril (Quinapril), that costed around P56 per 20 mg tablet. The sad thing is my husband is prescribed 40 mg twice a day, so we have to buy 4 20 milligrams to cover his usual prescription. We also have a discount card for it but it only gives a 40% discount for 32 tablets and we need about 120 tablets a month. Even with the 40% discount, we pay around P5600++ for Accupril (Quinapril), which my husband says he gets very cheaply in the U.S.

We are considering getting that abroad, but for the moment, I think it isn't worth the trouble. Over all, we pay about $200 for his medicines, which is certainly better than my original worst case scenario.

But the problem is, minus the Triamterene and the four 20-mg Accupril tablets which do not really have the same effect as two 40 mg Accupril tablets, my husband's blood pressure has gotten elevated. We have seen the doctor several times since then in the hopes of getting a better concoction, but no one wants to prescribe higher than what is already prescribed because they say it is already too high a dosage as it is. However, they did say he can take an extra Diovan a day if his blood pressure is alarmingly high in a day. We monitor his blood pressure everyday.

Apparently, filipinos, being slimmer as they are, really do not need high dosage of medicines as some Americans are prone to need because of their weight. So, it seems the only feasible solution to this problem is to lose weight, exercise more and eat more catabolic food. Less of the fattening fast foods on weekends and certainly more sensible foods at home.

Also, I have already relegated myself to the reality that a 24-hour aircon is a necessity than a luxury. Especially with the heat these days, there is no way I could have him turn the aircondition off at any time. I am just thinking of it as an investment in my husband's health.

Friday, May 28, 2010

13 A Temporary Resident Visa Approved!

And just in time too.. Our first extension, which was a two-month extension ended last May 12, 2010. We unfortunately had to extend it one more time until June 12, 2010, since we didn't receive any notice from the Bureau of Immigration in the beginning of May. Last week, I finally received a text from a staff at the Bureau of Immigration for my husband to bring his passport for visa implementation and he can now get an Alien Certificate of Registration Card.

The processing time certainly wasn't as bad as I heard. Thanks to the Bureau of Immigration, Makati for their expeditious response to our petition. I'll see them again next year, when the temporary visa expires.

For those who want to know,here are the requirements:

1) Bureau of Immigration general application form.
2) Bureau of Immigration Request for Clearance form.
3) NSO issued Marriage Certficate if you were married in the Philippines. If not, a Marriage Certificate duly authenticated by the country where you were married.
4) Letter by your filipina/filipino spouse petitioning the foreigner spouse under 13 (a).

Here are some of my posts narrating our ordeal:

1) Filing of petition.
2) Interview

Monday, May 10, 2010

Casted my Lot for Yellow

Today is the 2010 Presidential elections, and if you ask me right now who I voted for President I would say, although hesitantly, that it was Noynoy Aquino. Why hesitantly you might ask? Am I not proud of who I voted for? I say hesitantly, because half the pseudo intellectuals I call as friend would not find my choice to be the most intelligent, or bearing the earmarks of a true intellectual. After all, if school allegiance was the consideration, the fact that Noynoy Aquino alone is a graduate of a competing school to my alma matter, raises the flag that he isn't the right choice. But after several years of adult life, a great majority of it spent already after college, I realized that being a UP graduate alone is not the proper indicia for what would qualify as a good president. After all, former President Ferdinand Marcos, a bona fide UP law school graduate, with all his intellect and skill is still considered to have been one of the worst Philippine President of all time, having ushered several decades of total authoritarian regime, squelching democracy and fostering cronyism. Being intelligent alone obviously does not make for a good President when ones heart is not right. After all, now President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is not only an Ateneo graduate but a graduate of a prestigious U.S. ivy league school. All her intellect could not save her from her greed for power.

So what do I see in Noynoy? I can tell you neither impressive intellect nor skill. No capacity for rhetorical speeches like Obama, nor does he possess the kind of charisma that his father has. But I cast my lot to the most unlikely man of the hour, because I see in him the right heart. The heart of humility that I think is lacking in any of the running candidates. A heart who knows that the task at hand is greater than him and greater than the euphoria that has now brought him ahead in the surveys for the Presidential race.

I do not expect any ushering of eutopia. I expect very little from him except honesty and integrity which I have seen from both his parents. Maybe his only claim for fame is his name, but it is in that name that I am casting my lot, knowing that if he is half the Filipino he is, he will never do anything to shame his parent's name.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Busy with Work and Marriage :P

I don't have a good excuse for not keeping my blog up to date. I just have too much on my plate so to speak, and I couldn't seem to compose a cohesive article of reasonable interest for someone else other than myself.

Nonetheless all is well in paradise still inspite two major events that was unexpected:

> Drop in the value of the dollar against the peso;
From the time my Asawa came to the Philippines in the middle of February, the dollar has dropped from P45.8 to P44.3 to a dollar. If we relied solely on his pension, it would certainly be disconcerting that the value of the dollar has dropped. But fortunately, we have as much liquidity in peso as we have in dollar. My salary (in peso) basically takes care of the weekly expense while his dollar covers the major expenses like rent, utilities and his medicines. It is still a paradise for us here and we are still thankful inspite of what has been happening to the dollar.

> Rise in the price of electricity.
Our electric bill rose from P3000++ for the period of February 8 to March 7, to P6,000++ for the period of March 8 to April 7. A big chunk of the electric consumption can be attributed to a 1.5 aircondition, which is necessary for my Asawa who has high blood pressure. It was exacerbated by the fact that the temperature has not exactly been favorable hovering within 37 degrees celsius. I am still praying that the next bill is not going to be as bad as everyone says it will.

There are other things I am still working on. I act like my Asawa's personal secretary so I have my husband's to-do list on top of my own to-do list and that gives me alot to do. I was offered a scholarship for Public Management in a Singapore College and I am still pondering whether I want to take it. At any rate, I will still endeavor to come up with something more than a narration of my trivial life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Endeavoring to Live a Non-Tourist Life

One thing about these last two months with my Asawa is that we still are in that state where we are in some type of tourist-party mode. You know, spending our money like there is no tomorrow. We live a comfortable life in the Philippines, mostly because we both have some form of steady "income" - his pension and my salary. When only with my salary I felt I had enough to live comfortably but certainly not luxuriously, but now with both our "incomes" we live a higher than average cost-of-living -- more times to eat out and buy new things for our new home. Just after our late night dinner date, my husband and I started on a discussion on stabilizing our budget and prioritizing certain things which I find to be absolutely important, e.g. health plans for both of us, sticking to a food and entertainment budget, rainy-day funds, etc..

Hopefully in the next few months we will live a less party-like life. Certainly having him with me on a day-to-day basis has been a party enough for me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The 13 A Visa Experience

Our interview at the Bureau of Immigration Makati was at 9:30 A.M.. We arrived at the exact time, but had to wait until 10:30 A.M. before our time came for the interview. There were others that came ahead of us, so I didn't think much of being entertained an hour after our call time.

The lawyer who interviewed us began with the statement... (directing it to my husband) "So you have both your wife and counsel with you." With a twinkle in his eye he asked my husband whether that is an advantage. He said, yes, it has been an advantage. Then he began to ask about how we met. That kind of got my husband started about the long story of how we met, and how we have known each other for eight years now and have been married for three years, but that it is only now that we have lived together as husband and wife. When asked about how he found the Philippines so far, he said he loves it, and has felt at home. The interviewer also asked my husband whether he knows what my mother's first name is, and he said "Fe". It was a good thing the interviewer didn't ask about my father's first name because I don't think he would have remembered. :p My father had died quite awhile ago and I didn't talk much about him because he didn't live with us (my mom and I).

The interview ended pleasantly, and the interviewer said to expect my husband's probationary visa in one to two months, and that they would be texting me for the implementation so that my husband's passport can be stamped. I also asked whether there would be any problem if we decided to travel outside the country before the approval of his probationary 13 A visa, he said it won't be unless the approval came at exactly the time we were out of the country. He said something about the process but which didn't stick in my mind since we didn't really have any travel plans outside the country in two months. He also said that after the year I can apply my husband for a permanent resident visa.

The interview ended pleasantly enough with the interviewer calling me "Panera" (from one lawyer to another), and we said our goodbyes.

At any rate here is the timeline so far:

February 12, 2010 - arrival in Manila
February 24, 2010 - application for 13 A visa
March 2, 2010 - filing of extension of tourist visa
March 5, 2010 - expiry of the 21 day no-visa requirement upon arrival
March 16, 2010 - receipt of notice of interview
March 24, 2010 - interview date
May 7, 2010 - filing of second extension
May 12, 2010 - expiry of the first extension
May 20, 2010 - visa approval for probationary 13 (a) visa
May 28, 2010 - receipt of notice of 13 (a) visa approval.
June 12, 2010 - expiry of second extension


Also, there are some important things you need to do when filing which is not indicated in any brochure or material given to you but which is apparently necessary before they accept your application.

1. Put all the necessary documents in a folder with the name of the applicant (the foreign spouse) clearly indicated in the flap of the folder.
2. Fasten all the necessary documents on the top portion of the folder. Documents such as NSO issued certificates or other official documents should be pasted/stapled in a separate sheet which will be the one fastened onto the folder. So as to avoid having to borrow a puncher from the grumpy people there (like I did), bring your own puncher.
3. If you can, photocopy the receipt before you fasten it onto the folder. They will require you to fasten it on top of all your documents after you have paid the required fees.
4. Make sure that your filipino spouse signs as petitioner in the bottom portion of the form and that her CTC (cedula) No./passport number and its details are also indicated in the notarial portion at the bottom.

God Bless to all other applicants.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Contending with Bureau of Immigration Sooner than Expected

Interview on the 13 A is set this Friday... let us hope all works out well. :)

All I got was a text telling me the interview is set on Friday. No written order sent by mail yet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Makati... A Lifestyle

I have lived in three places in Metro Manila in all my 35++ years. I lived alternately between Sta. Cruz, Manila {near Chinatown and the Tondo area) and Novaliches, Quezon City during my childhood and teenage years. I lived in Pasay City as a grown up. However, I worked in Makati City for 8 years, before I began working in the Quezon City area.

Makati City is still the business hub of the country I think. Although I wonder if Ortigas is fast overtaking it. Makati is as cosmpolitan as it can get if you are living in the Philippines. I could never dress down when I worked there. I wore heels and formal business attire. Believe it or not, I dressed more formally when I worked in Makati as a computer instructor, much more than now when I am already a lawyer. When I became a lawyer I only dressed formally when I went to court and when I used to work as Chief of the Legal Department of another government office. Now I just go to work in casual formal.

Also working in Makati was a lifestyle. Lunches or dinners meant meals in expensive restaurants or daily eating out. While in laid-back Quezon City, lunches are delivered by in-house concessionaires, and can cost as little as P35 a viand, in Makati City you cannot have lunch for less than P100. Also if you had mid-afternoon snacks, the nearby coffee houses or even donut shops can set you back by another P100.

Also back then, being in my 20s meant my friends frequently invited me for night outs. The extra dinner night out can set you back by as low as P500 per meal (for one person). On top of that are night outs like bowling games, mini-golf, and even bar hopping which can really put a dent on your budget.

But certainly those times were fun times for me. I juggled law school and work. I had this really funny experience where we went to a disco (that was what it was called at the time) and we stayed there until 2 in the morning, and the next day I had a class in law school for Succession. I didn't sleep at all! When I got home around 3 or 4 in the morning, I studied until 6 in the morning and went to school at 7 a.m. (it was a weekend class). You can believe I was a little dazed and my head was up there in the clouds while I recited on wills and successions. LOL! :p But hey I survived both law school and the wild life of my 20s.

One thing about Makati too is the HORRIBLE traffic! I lived in nearby Pasay City, and on a non-traffic weekend, I can be in Makati in 15 minutes. I recall on a work day, the traffic would be so bad just in Ayala that it would take me an hour to get to work from Pasay City. Compare that to my travel time between Pasay City to Quezon City, and I can tell you it is almost the same time. And if you ever decide to go to Glorietta or Greenbelt from Makati Avenue or Paseo de Roxas for lunch, the traffic traversing Makati could be so bad you can spend the entire lunch hour just going to and from Glorietta.

Also, a word of caution for anyone picking up or dropping off anyone along Ayala - there are set drop-off and pick-up points in Ayala. The drop-off and pick-up point is not the same. One point is the drop-off point and another the pick-up point. If you tried dropping off someone in a pick up point you can be fined by the traffic marshals. Another point to consider is that it is difficult to find parking in Makati, it can be very expensive just to pay for parking on a daily basis.

While I enjoyed working in Makati... the lifestyle was something I do not care to have too long. Although I have lived in Manila all my life, I still prefer the simple life over the high life. I did love the competitive and professional spirit in Makati, but I did not care much for that kind of constant "high" living.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Shall Contend with BOI Another Day

After filing our 13-A at the BOI, and realizing it would take longer than I expected. I began to think of what I considered should have been an obvious question earlier on -- so what happens to the temporary tourist visa that is valid only for 21 days. The obvious answer was that it needed an extension. Just to be certain about it, and so that we wouldn't have to pay extra more than we already had, I decided to take the easy route --- call Atty. so-and-so, a Law school classmate to inquire on the procedure. Yes, it turns out we needed to extend.

Since I didn't want the hassle anymore, and I know an officemate owns a travel agency that does extension, I asked him to do the visa extension for us. I figured, heck the extra service fee he would charge would just be less than my daily wage -- why should I bother the cost of food for lunch and extra fare (and hassle) to file it myself. So I took the lazy route this time and asked them to file it for me.. for the minimal cost of P1,500 service fee.

However, the extra filing fee did put a damper on my budget.. but what the heck. The cost of fees are broken down as follows:

ACR Fee (Adult) 1000
Head Tax 250
Legal Research 70
Visa Waiver Appl Fee 1000
Visa Waiver 500
MNTH Exten Appl Fee 300
MNTH Extn Fee 500
ECC Fee 700
Certificate Fee 500

4820

Express Lane Fee 1000
Exp Lane Fee (Cert) 500
1500

A grand total of P6320, on top of the P7120 already paid for the 13 A. Another two months before I have to contend again with the BOI.

Asawa is valid for stay until May 15, 2010, unless the 13 A is sooner approved (which I doubt). Or another P6320 for another extension.

Thanks to my officemate who incidentally is not only a lawyer himself, but part owner of a travel agency in Bulacan. If anyone ever needs help in this department and you live near him his company is JetsGo Travel Services.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Continuing Saga

We finally filed our 13 (a) ... but not without hitches. After complying with all the requirements, such as the notarized letter from the spouse (petitioner), notarized application form (signed by the applicant and petitioner), NSO issued Birth Certificate, NSO issued Marriage Certificate, and photocopy of alien spouse's passport which includes the bio page, date of admission and date of authorized stay, we finished 2 to 3 hours after our arrival at the Makati Office.

All I can say that except for one or two staff of the Bureau of Immigration, every single one of them were grumpy and rude. They certainly were less courteous to the foreigners, who they even sometimes summarily dismissed as either not following instructions or refused to be seated down (when there was clearly no seat left). I can understand how staying in a country not ones own is a privilege but certainly every civil servant worth their salt, should realize that the foreigners coming to our country help to fund our economy in some form, ergo also fund their (the Bureau of Immigration staff) salary. Further, Conduct Unbecoming of a Public Official is sufficiently broad that disrespect to ones clientele can easily land them an administrative charge. But hey, maybe it was the heat of the sun and the packed office that made their heads equally hot that day, whichever it was.. it certainly did not make my dealings with them pleasant.

I must emphasize the point that under the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA), government agencies are required to have a flowchart of the frontline services they offer. For example, there should have been a flowchart of procedure for those needing a tourist visa extension, for those filing under 13-A or such other processes. No such flowchart exists anywhere within the satellite office. It seems that for those needing anything from the BI they would either have to figure this things out on their own, or deal with accredited agencies. I cannot understand why the process cannot be clearly laid down on paper and each step-by-step instruction made readily available at the office itself.

At any rate, I decided I will be more proactive the next time. I will ask around with my lawschool friends who work with the Bureau of Immigration about the whole procedure, since I certainly cannot get a straight unoffensive answer from the office itself.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dealing with the Bureau of Immigration

My dealings with other government agencies, apart from my own has been few and far between. And in the few times I have ever needed to deal with any other government agency apart from my own, I have often leveraged the fact that I had belonged in the last 8 years of government service with two of the most powerful quasi-judicial agencies. When my husband and I got married, I casually asked a Field Officer from my former agency about the process of getting a marriage license which would not require attendance to a seminar since my husband would be in the country for only 3 weeks for the wedding. The license itself would have required 10 days of processing upon filing, and upon his arrival he would not have had the time to attend a seminar. That conversation went very well since I was referred to the Personnel Officer of the city which I then lived in, and since I knew him from before, he easily referred me to the Civil Registrar of that city. It was pleasant since even the Personnel Officer himself spoke to me and my husband. It was a cinch, and we were married in 10 days.

I really am not the type to be blatant about my "associations", since it can often backfire unexpectedly. Since I did not want to say I am from so-and-so agency and I was getting a visa for my foreigner husband, I chose to take the less blatant approach - I donned my agency t-shirt with our agency logo emblazoned in the left pocket. It was easy enough to get entertained when I arrived at the Bureau of Immigration satellite office. That was not really the problem. My problem was the instruction on the leaflet they gave me; I thought them misleading and wasted my time since I visited the office once more than I should have.

I should have realized the instruction was inaccurate since Item No. 6 made no sense to me -- "Plain photocopy of the passport of foreign national's spouse showing applicant's bio-page, admission stamp and authorized stay of at least twenty (20) calendar days from date of filing." Does it make any sense to you why they would ask a photocopy of MY PASSPORT? Since after all, I am the foreign national's spouse. I think they meant "photocopy of the passport of the foreign national," which is certainly more acceptable and accurate.

At any rate, I dispensed that as an error in logic or syntax, whichever that was. I proceeded to get Item No. 5 on my second visit -- "the Bureau of Immigration Clearance Certificate". Tell me if I am wrong, is it not that when you say that the BI Clearance Certificate is a requirement, it would imply that once the Application/Petition for 13-A visa is filed, the Clearance Certificate is already present. Thus, I was of the impression that I needed to get that first before I file the Application/Petition itself. Wow, was I WRONG! Apparently, there was a gap somewhere between their thinking and what was written on paper since they said.. what they meant was the "Request for Clearance" was to be submitted together with the Application/Petition itself. So I wasted a day of leave at the office, as well as a half-day commute. I just chalk it all up to experience, partly because that is all I can do.

At any rate, I still have one ace up my sleeve if I ever get delayed. The Commissioner is a personal family friend of an officemate. :P If I can't do this smoothly the procedural way, I will do it smoothly another way (but still perfectly legal). :D

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Finally Here Before Valentine's

He is finally HERE!!! And what a relief! :p I didn't see him in the arrival area, one hour after the Asiana flight had arrived, and I was already getting worried, thinking that something horrible has happened to him. I didn't want to call his children abroad, as I felt it would be too early to worry them. But finally I saw him, acosted by two men at the arrival area (worry). At the back of my mind I was thinking if this was some immigration hulla-baloo or he was being interrogated for something. It turned out Asiana had lost one of his baggages which has three months worth of medicines! In any case, they said it would be returned the next day, and it was.

At home, having arrived two weeks ahead of him at our new place made it possible for me to apply for a cable connection such that the day after his arrival, our connection was installed. It costed me P2750 for a 6-month connection via Global Destiny... and not bad, it had almost all the channels that my Asawa Pogi wanted. Tomorrow (today) is Valentine's and we are buying our first weekly groceries. I budgeted P2000 for that (wish us luck)... Hopefully that should be enough for our two-person household.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Travelocity is of NO HELP

I hate trashing anyone on-line... but it seems this plane-ticket provider has left us with no option but to trash them. Since we can't seem to get a decent response from them for our problem, we will now take the route of the less noble, but certainly fulfilling, the route of calling them for what they are.

As you very well know, my husband was supposed to be on his way to the Philippines on January 28, 2010. Unfortunately, the worse of the worst things happened and the itinerary was changed on the DAY of the flight itself!!!

I cannot understand how any decent juridical person can make a commitment, based on an exchange of currencies, to fly a natural person from one country to another, and renege on that commitment without as much as a bat of the eyelashes. Well, Travelocity and Asiana really got one over us. My husband's flight via Delta (Jan 28)(Flint-Minneapolis-Seattle) and Asiana (Jan 29)(Seattle-Seoul-Manila)was changed to:

Flight change for your 01/28/2010 tripFriday, 29 January, 2010 06:25a.m.
We have learned that the airline has changedthe flight schedulefor your trip on January 28, 2010 to Seattle/Tacoma. This is a significant change from your original itinerary.

Your immediate action is required.

Please call our Customer Support Center right away to review the available options provided by the airline and to confirm your flight schedule for this trip. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
CUSTOMER SUPPORT

THU 28 JAN
Delta Air Lines Flight 7996 operated by PINNACLE DBA DELTA CONNECTION (on Canadair Regional Jet)
Departs: Flint FNT at 07:05 AM
Arrives: Minneapolis International Airport MSP at 07:49 AM 28 JAN

1 Stop - change planes in Minneapolis, MN (MSP)
Connection Time: 1 hr 41 mins

Delta Air Lines Flight 3064 operated by NORTHWEST AIRLINES (on Boeing 757-300)
Departs: Minneapolis International Airport MSP at 09:30 AM
Arrives: Seattle/Tacoma International Airport SEA at 11:22 AM 28 JAN

THU 28 JAN
Asiana Airlines Flight 271 (on Boeing 777)
Departs: Seattle/Tacoma International Airport SEA at 01:20 PM
Arrives: Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN at 06:05 PM 29 JAN

1 Stop - change planes in Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
Connection Time: 89 hrs

55 mins

Asiana Airlines Flight 213 (on Boeing 777)
Departs: San Francisco International Airport SFO at 12:00 PM
Arrives: Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN at 05:50 PM 3 FEB

WED 3 FEB
Asiana Airlines Flight 703 (on Airbus A321-100/200)
Departs: Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN at 07:45 PM
Arrives: Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport MNL at 10:55 PM 3 FEB

THU 4 FEB
Asiana Airlines Flight 271 (on Boeing 777)
Departs: Seattle/Tacoma International Airport SEA at 01:20 PM
Arrives: Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN at 06:05 PM 5 FEB

FRI 5 FEB
Asiana Airlines Flight 703 (on Airbus A321-100/200)
Departs: Seoul Incheon International Airport ICN at 07:45 PM
Arrives: Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport MNL at 10:55 PM 5 FEB

I can't half understand it either. But from what I gather we can choose the option of either arriving on February 3 or February 5!!! A lay-over of almost 5 days! And what is worse is that this option was given on the day of the flight itself! I received the e-mail 6 A.M. January 29 Manila Time!!!

My husband didn't choose to take the flight, but in trying to rebook the best that Asiana gave us was a Minneapolis-Seattle-Seoul-Manila flight on February 2. The problem was we had to get a connecting flight via Delta that would coincide with Asiana's on that day! Travelocity was of NO HELP! And Asiana even had us pay for the difference of the new itinerary to the old one, which was $199.

On top of that, the hotel I booked could no longer be updated to a different date because it was less than 24 hours before check-in.

My husband cannot get any cooperation from either Travelocity or Asiana. They left us completely to our own defenses about a connecting flight. And Travelocity said in their website that they would do everything to work with their partners to find the best flight possible for its customers! We were left hanging at the last minute of the flight! Left with two choices which was no choice at all: 1) take the old itinerary and get a lay-over of 5 days or more; or 2) choose a new one.. but sleep over at the airport because it couldn't be avoided... there was no nearer connecting flight! Take note that in the last one they offered no help with Delta than just to turn us over to Delta!

Next time.. I will get an itinerary with one airline company and never again with Asiana! Also, never again will I deal with Travelocity.. they are incompetent and heartless people.. willing to sell over my husband and allow a man of advanced age to suffer the inconvenience of a long flight and sleeping over at an airport (that breaks my heart) when we had paid for a shorter itinerary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anxious Now

After so many years, we are finally going to be permanently together. I can't help but wonder if some catastrophe will happen to spoil all my happiness. It just doesn't seem ordinary to have the life I have always wanted. In 2 days I would have what I have deeply hoped for... with God's grace and mercy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cost of Moving

I am a firm believer of "Murphy's Law" - if anything wrong can happen, it usually will. Of course it doesn't mean that I am the eternal pessimist, but only that I always have a back-up plan if ever the worst happens. Now what does this have to do with moving. Well, I had for the weekend "move" budget allotted P4,000 - 2,000 for the movers and 2,000 for the cost of installing the aircondition. But although I could not think of how else I could be spending on extra, I thought to bring an extra P5,000 with me just "in case".

Well the move went quite well, although my things didn't fill half the truck. When I got to the unit, I learned I had to replace the lockset, as the keys were missing. Somehow I knew that would happen, as the second time I went to the place (the first time when I viewed two units; the second was when I made my choice)they couldn't open it with the keys they thought was for the unit. That didn't bother me too much, because I did feel that the original lockset looked unsafe. So I was asked what kind of lockset do I want -- I said the best looking one (did I tell you I am vain?); that set me back by P1,700 for the front door lockset. How about the back door? I went cheap on that one, anyway the former lockset was only a simple lock without a knob -- that one costed only P300. So my original P5,000 was reduced by P2,000. Then they had to install both. The installation for the front one costed P300 and the other at the back costed P200. The total cost for installation of the locksets? 500

Then we started installing the aircondition (the entire thing lasted from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). Since I had no idea when the aircondition and the rest of my new appliances (refrigerator and gas range) would arrive, I asked the appliance store what was the dimension for the aircon -- 15' height, 22' width and 26 DEPTH. At any rate, the aircondition arrived around after lunch (1:00 p.m.), he had already started drilling. Time came for installing the aircon, can you guess what happened? There was a YAWNING gap on the left side? Guess why? Because he heard 26'!!! Probably not understanding the word "depth" since I did not explain it in Tagalog! LOL! Honestly I was good natured about the yawning gap since they were willing to cement it (still at my expense), and also because I felt partly to blame for not explaining what was meant by "depth". Also at that point in time, my excitement over my husband's arrival just totally overshadowed any slight irritation I had over paying extra for the cost of the cement and paint. :P Anyway, the extra cement only costed P30.

So what else did I have to pay? Well P300 for installing the two curtain rods and P300 for the new breaker (the old one was broken) plus labor.

I ended up paying an extra P200 for nailing the feet on my bed. :P All I know is that over-all I paid an extra P1300 to the original P2000 I had allotted for them.

At any rate, Murphy was still right up to the very end. After they left, the bolt that connected the water closet to the water supply broke!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Not Leaving on a Jet Plane

If there is anyone sad about my leaving the house, it is certainly my mom. Having lived here for 16 years and spending 5 years of it sleeping next to my mom, I can understand why she feels such sadness. But she knew it was coming -- after 8 years of an internet relationship with my Asawa, 3 years of which we were already married. But inspite the amount of preparation, there is still this gloom in her countenance.

Still she should be happy. My husband and I will be visiting her at least once a month, if not more. And she will most certainly be staying at our place when she has to visit the doctor for her check-ups. At this moment my husband and I just need some time to settle down in our new home.

I guess constant visits to her in the future will remind her that we are not oceans apart... just the EDSA-stretch apart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Older - Foreigner- Younger - Filipina Myth

A friend of mine once said if I didn't wear glasses (which I sometimes don't -- out of vanity), people would think me a prostitute with a foreigner. Perhaps because I like to dress sexy or I just am (LOL! Did I tell you humility was never one of my better assets?), I just do not look nerdy without glasses.

It is not uncommon (especially on weekends when I am wearing just jeans and a shirt) when I am with my Asawa that I get "THE LOOK". You know? The LOOK of disgust and indignation from people you hardly know. People who do not even know that you have two times the education they have; from people who do not know that you graduated from one of the best universities of the country. At that particular instance, I restrain myself from brandishing my Integrated Bar of the Philippines ID.

Two incidents that come to mind with such clarity are: (1) when my Asawa and I took a cab to our hotel and (2) when we took the MRT one time.

In the first incident the taxi driver infuriated me with a comment to the effect that I should "share" the wealth with him by allowing him to overcharge the foreigner. I was so indignant I told him point blank and in English so that my husband can hear what he just insinuated, that I would have his license revoked by reporting him to the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC)/Land Transportation Office (LTO)(incidentally I have a friend from lawschool who works at DOTC and my Auntie-Lawyer is a Regional Director at LTO).

The second incident was on an MRT ride to Makati from Quezon City, when an elderly woman gave me THE LOOK. It didn't bother me because I actually wasn't looking, but my husband was, and it got him so upset, he bugged the woman by saying "Jesus Loves You"! And he wasn't being nice about it... he was being sarcastic even. But I told him to let her go; we were in the portion of the MRT where both men and women occupied the train, I certainly didn't want him to get mobbed by the men.

At any rate, it doesn't bother me in the sense that no matter what they think, I know better who I am.

I certainly do not judge the other filipinas even if they were prostitutes or household helps in the past before they married foreigners. Their past in itself is not a measure of their character. We all have to make our own different choices based on the cards we are dealt. Also, only she knows what her intentions are and only time can tell how true her heart is for the man she married.

I just hope that someday people will stop judging other people based on unfounded generalizations and myths that are antiquated. Most filipina who marry foreigners are not even former prostitutes or household helps. A great majority of them are the educated filipina who through the advent of the internet have come to realize that "the market" is no longer limited to just filipinos, but to foreign men as well.

Someday maybe ... until that time I just have to remind myself that I do not belong to that myth.