I had to get an NBI clearance for employment so I went with Rian on this one-day adventure. It’s so effing surreal, lining up at 3am in the morning for a government-issued certificate sounds so exaggerated until you’ve experienced it yourself. I’m not kidding. I’ve heard a few people have a similar experience (someone who lined up at 2am and finished at 11am), and as for ours, we went to the nearest NBI Clearance Center, which is at Robinsons Metro East, Marcos Highway. Woke up at 2.45am, left the house at 3am, got there in ten minutes and lined up for 11 hours.

people at 3am, lined up to get their NBI clearances

We were the 22nd or 23rd to arrive at the line, and this was right outside of the mall. I have no idea what time the first person arrived, but the guards would say the line starts at 1am. WILD. 

we stood under the pedestrian overpass, and the line would sometimes extend to the edge of the highway

We were asked to line up outside for two hours, and at 5am, they let us walk to the parking lot of the 5th floor. We passed through the stairs of the fire exit, and you could say that going up those flights of stairs could be considered a morning exercise. I just proved that once again, I am not a fit person. We walked in a single file, and then we were asked to wait at the side of the parking lot, where the people started sitting down.

sitting on a single file at the parking lot

You wouldn’t really know how fast or how slow time flew. Rian and I just talked to each other about anything and everything for like 5 hours. All those times that I didn’t get to hang out with her in college, I started making up for through these hours. At this point, our conversations still made sense, until we got so tired of talking and also felt very sleepy and hungry. We shared some bread and water that I brought with me and Rian even ended up napping while crouching or sitting down on the side of the parking lot.

people at the opposite side of the wall — a continuation of the line

At one point, you’ll just realize that hey, the sun is already up.

the end of the line around 5am

At Robinsons, they limit the number of people who will be accommodated, since they’ll only take in around 300 a day. So if you arrive and you’re 301st, the guards will probably ask you to leave because you won’t be accommodated anymore. All these people at the end of the line had to leave eventually. Some were stubborn enough to stay, hoping they’d get included, but the guards eventually made them go home. Basically, 5am wasn’t even a sure time that you’ll make it to the cut-off. Definitely not 6am. That would have been too late. 4am would be the safest and latest hour where you can be pretty sure you’ll still make it.

everyone is hoping they’d make it to the cut-off. a lot of people didn’t.

I didn’t have a watch so I didn’t really take note of what time it was. My dad would text and ask me if we were inside the mall yet, but even at past 9am we were still sitting outside. I have no idea how I passed the time. I brought a book with me, but my eyes were too tired for reading. I bugged Charlie and James (who wasn’t able to come with me and Rian because he didn’t have enough valid IDs or documents yet) through texts for a while, as Rian was still napping. My mom would text me too, and told me that Rian and I should have a good, expensive lunch to treat ourselves for all those hours we had to stay out and wait. Except, we’re talking about Robinsons Metro East here, and there weren’t that many restaurants to choose from.

After the guard gave out numbers/tags (around 10am), this meant people could leave to get food for a while and then just go back in line based on our number. Rian and I finally went inside the now-open mall, and searched for a place to eat with SOFT SEATS. Because our butts were pretty flat and aching after sitting for 5 hours on the concrete. We ended up eating at Mary Thomas Kitchen on the top floor. Neither of us ate there before, but they had SOFT SEATS. YES.

Mary Thomas Kitchen
the interior of the restaurant

It was cozy enough inside, and the meals cost around P130-P180.

Rian lying down while we waited for our food

Rian ordered some chicken, while I ordered cream dory.

Chicken. this was around P135, I think
The cream dory was weird since it had red sauce, not white or cheese as I expected (and assumed). It didn’t taste that good either. The fish wasn’t soft at all. I just didn’t want to eat fastfood.

I wanted some dessert, so we shared a slice of cheesecake. It was the weirdest cheesecake ever. Rian liked it, but I didn’t.

the cheesecake did NOT taste like cheesecake. It tasted like eggs. More like lecheflan actually, minus the jelly texture and caramel. Which is probably why Rian liked it and I didn’t. Because she likes lecheflan, and I don’t.

We went back to the parking lot around 12pm, which was a good idea because five minutes later, they finally let us inside. Going inside didn’t mean it was your turn for the processing. It just meant you can line up inside already. That you’re a few hours nearer to the finish line.

the line inside the mall

They gave out some forms while in line, so you have to have a pen with you. THIS is where information design badly needed to come in because the form was the most confusing form ever.

the NBI clearance form

I have to explain some things because it was SO UNCLEAR. Someone will shout to explain what the fields meant, and that was so inefficient. Instead of text boxes, they should have made some of them into check boxes instead.

  • Purpose meant local or foreign employment.
  • the For Women Only box is actually for married women only.
  • I have NO idea what that AH checkbox means.
  • A.K.A. probably meant nickname but it doesn’t really matter.
  • Complexion meant fair or light or dark, I think. Someone warned not to put “black” or “white” because some guy must have wrote that down before.
  • Reflection is actually Religion

It’s pretty clear how the whole form is confusing. I’d offer to redo this and redesign it for FREE. I’ll put one up on my design blog soon, just to show how I think it could be improved.

There are 4 steps in getting your NBI clearance once you reach the end of the line:

  1. STEP 1: Payment – you pay for the clearance. Ours was Php115.
  2. STEP 2: Encoding – they would type in what you wrote in your form.
  3. STEP 3: I forgot what this was called, but this is where they take your picture and finger prints.
  4. STEP 4: Releasing – they print it pretty fast so you get it on the same day, unless you have a very common last name. In which case, they’ll ask you to go back for it on a specified day. You don’t have to line up that early anymore, since you’ll only have to go straight to the Releasing counter with your receipt to get your clearance. BUT this is also a good reason to get your clearance early if you think your last name is common. It will take around two or three more weeks before you can claim it.

There SHOULD be a better system in releasing and claiming NBI clearances. If a lot of areas offer the same experience as ours, it’s just too inefficient. All these people could do something more worthwhile with their time, rather than wasting half a day at an NBI center just to claim theirs. The process once you’ve started STEP 1 is pretty fast. It will take around 30-40 minutes (including the extra waiting in between Step 1 and Step 2). It’s just the initial lining up that takes 9+ hours.

If the NSO Birth Certificate is required (it’s actually either that or 2 valid ids) — and NSO is a GOVERNMENT office — this would mean that the NBI as another government office should have a direct connection with other offices. Instead of requiring people to bring their certificates, isn’t it more logical that the NBI could perform a check on their own, or access that information on their own? Maybe an online system for applications could save everyone’s time and energy. Instead of going to a clearance center, you could just apply for one online, and be given a schedule when to go to the office, so that you wouldn’t have to wait hours just to know if you’ll be accommodated. Then, just require 2 valid IDs for claiming the clearance. Just eliminate time wasted waiting to know if you can get accommodated for the day.

Anyway, I just hope that the system improves soon. I dread the day that I have to get an NBI clearance for whatever reason again.

5 thoughts on “The NBI Nightmare

  1. The form is different in Victory Mall. That one is more logical and correct. The line there sucks also, but at least you don’t have to meet a certain cut-off number.

  2. I can empathize with you — I also got my NBI Clearance at Metro East two weeks ago. Arrived at 3:30AM and I was already the 32nd person in line albeit the rain/storm warnings. Was done by 9AM — relatively quicker than most people, but oh my goodness what a waste of time and energy. And I agree, the form is AWFUL! When you’re sleep-deprived, achy from sitting on the pavement for hours and hungry, it’s just trying to muddle through “Reflection” (my seatmates said, “Reflection? Lagay natin, ‘I need a mirror!'” Needless to say, when the NBI guy walking around checking our papers heard that, he was not amused). I don’t want to get an NBI clearance again anytime soon! It’s too much trouble. :(

    1. I had a conversation about it with a friend and we have a theory that it’s the fiscal season / mid-year, and a lot of people get laid-off if they’re contractual workers, so maybe that’s why there’s just SO much people getting NBI clearances right now. My friend got his in October last year, and it wasn’t as bad. Maybe that could be a good time to get an NBI clearance if you wouldn’t need it so soon?

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