July 10, 2007
National Bureau of Investigation
I am Raymund E. Narag, a former suspect in a criminal case. I was charged with a non-bailable criminal offense way back April 1995. Eventually, after being detained for six (6) years, nine (9) months and four (4) days, on February 28, 2002, the court declared I was innocent of all the cases filed against me.
Immediately upon my acquittal, on April 2002, I applied for a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Clearance. I lined up for a whole day (9 am to 5 pm) in the old Clearance Office in Taft Avenue. There I presented different proofs that I had been a law abiding citizen: a Certification of Acquittal and the Order of Decision from the Regional Trial Court (RTC), an Order of Release from the Warden of Quezon City Jail, a Barangay Clearance from the Barangay Captain of Barangay Matapat in Quezon City, an Order of Acquittal from the University of Philippines (UP) Student Disciplinary Tribunal and a Lift Order from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) lifting my Hold Departure Order. After three weeks of daily follow-up, I was eventually issued an NBI clearance declaring that I had â€œNO CRIMINAL RECORDS.â€ This clearance allowed me to participate in a two-week research training in Sri Lanka and Thailand. It also helped me land a job in our country.
On June 2005, I was fortunate to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship allowing me to study a Masterâ€s Program in Michigan State University (USA) majoring in Criminal Justice Administration. In my visa application, I was asked about being charged or arrested for any offense. As such, I had to renew my NBI Clearance which then already expired as NBI clearances are good only for one year from date of issue. As such, I willingly obliged to undergo the same process.
To my astonishment however, I had to undergo the same travails that I had undergone during my first application. It was as if I had never presented any of the proofs that I presented earlier. Again, I had to go to each of the offices (RTC, Warden, Barangay, UP, BI), spent much money, resources and time, and present it to the Quarantine Officer. It took almost a month to process my Clearance this time and I barely made it to my Visa interview.
Setting aside my experiences with the NBI, I moved on and excelled in my field of endeavor. I was able to finish my Masters Program with flying colors, which I hope will make our country proud. Because of my excellent performance, the school offered me yet another scholarship, this time for a PhD program.
As such, I have to renew my visa and of course, my NBI clearance. Hoping that this time around, the application will be smooth sailing, I chose an interview date with my consular officer just two days prior to my NBI clearance application. I was in for a big trouble:
On June 25, 2007, I joined the long line in the Carriedo office of the NBI. From 9 am till 11:30 am, I was part of the throng of people (around a thousand of us) going up and down the NBI building. I must admit that this was a huge improvement from the two previous tripsâ€” the place is air-conditioned and despite the number of people, everything seems to be in order. But it was in Step 6 that the NBI officer saidâ€”â€œSorry, you got a hit!â€ referring to my old case. I am quite prepared for this and so I presented all the documents that I used to present. He smiled wryly and said in Pilipino, â€œthat is good but you have to be back on June 28.â€
I humbly plead that I need a clearance because my interview date was on June 27. However, he said he cannot do anything and he even castigated me for setting a very close date. He then dismissed me to appeal my case to their boss in room 604.
I showed all my documents to the boss, who quite seemed sympathetic to my case. I told him that it is quite perplexing to undergo all the same difficulties three times. He admitted that their record system is not yet fully synchronized and that it was also beyond his powers to have me cleared now. However, he advised me that if I knew someone from the NBI who could vouch for my integrity, then, there was a possibility that the procedure could be made faster.
It was a morally and ethically unacceptable for me to pull strings just to make things work. The reason why I lined up in the first place was because I want to trust the NBI system–that the NBI bureaucracy can work if only it is followed properly. But at that very moment, I was pushed to the wall. Without the NBI clearance, my visa was in grave danger.
I called a friend, who has a friend, who has friend right in the Quarantine Office. I must admit that this Quarantine Officer is dutiful but overworked. She initially protested when I approached her but when I mentioned the name of the person, she straightened up. â€œHmmp, this people, why do they have to rush me always,â€ was her not very silent remark. I have to tell her my whole story, trying to evoke sympathy from her. Eventually she saw that I was talking about grave situations and she smiled. Then she said, â€œokay I am going to work on this doubly hard and you can get it back early tomorrow!â€
It saved my day, nope probably my future. I got the Clearance as she promised and I was granted a visa the following day. It was her heroic efforts of pulling my record from Step 6 and then facilitating the signatures that had made it â€œexpressâ€ delivery.
However, I felt sorry for the long line of people whom she had to bypass just to accommodate me. Some people had been waiting longer than I had waited. An old acquaintance from the Quezon City Jail whom I met while in Step 6, also said that it took him a month every time he renewed his clearance for the past 10 years. Another person had to endure similar procedure just because his name was the same as that of a criminal. I inquired about an NBI Identification Barcode but I was informed that I had to line up again and coughed up another fee. The person in charge cannot also promise that I will not have a â€œhitâ€ in the future clearance applications.
It is in this regard that I was compelled to write a letter and share this experience. Considering the huge amount of money that the NBI collects from the issuances of Clearances, is it not only appropriate that they thank the paying public with a decent service? But more than a question of efficacy is the issue of justice: for people like me who had the misfortune of being charged with a criminal offense, is it not a continuing form of punishment to be treated shabbily every time we request for clearance? We already endured years of incarceration (in my case seven years), only to be declared innocent by the courts, yet the government, through the NBI, cannot even treat us as decent human beings?
I pray that the NBI director and other officials will read this long letter and have the time to ponder on how the improve their systems. The NBI officers should realize how much power they yieldâ€” they make or break the careers, employments and future of people who depend on the issuance of the clearanceâ€” power that they should exercise properly. The fact that they can â€œexpediteâ€ the processing of clearances when â€œvouchedâ€ by insiders indicates that the system can be made efficient if only they put their hearts out for committed service.
Having been an â€œexpertâ€ in lining up for NBI clearances, I have some few suggestions to offer. Moreover, having studied criminal justice systems of other countries, I could share some best practices pertaining to records management. I am willing to share this knowledge for free. Below is my contact information.
I just hope that on my fourth visit, I will no longer get the dreaded â€œhit.â€ I hope to become the normal citizen I truly deserve.
Raymund E. Narag
Fulbright Grantee 2005
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan, USA