Post Office struggles to survive new technology

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It has withstood wars and calamities; it has seen the transfer of power from one colonizer to the next; it has seen revolutions and changes in the country’s leadership—but now, can it pass the challenge of new technology?

The Philippine Postal Corp. (PHLPost), or simply referred to as the Post Office, has been around as early as the 16th century—though with different names and incarnations—when letters from Europe were sent through galleons. As it was with the rest of the world, the postal service played a huge role in the history of the Philippine Islands to the Commonwealth of the Philippines to the present Republic of the Philippines as it was the main conveyor of written communication.

But today, the Post Office cannot deny that it has been struggling with the advent of new technology, particularly with the rise of the internet and email. Letter-sending had become outdated by the turn of the millennium obviously because of the free and real-time communication using email and different messenger services, which are even made accessible using smart phones.

“Actually the trend really of snail mail is downward because of the technology,” said Myrachelle Gay Santos, the Postmaster General’s Chief of Staff. She pegged the yearly decrease of domestic snail mails to 10 percent.


Yet another challenge
The rise of numerous courier services also added to the dilemma—the tight competition among private companies makes it hard for the Post Office entice people to avail their services.

Private and international companies, indeed, have more sophisticated and modern methods of tracking and delivery.

“We cannot deny the fact that over the past few years, PHLPost was really left out in terms of technology, whatever advancement that is, and also in operations,” she said.

According to Santos, the corporation posted incurring losses until 2010—meaning, the government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) is spending more than it collects. Santos, however, noted that under the administration of Postmaster General Josephine dela Cruz, who assumed office in 2010, PHLPost posted earned $80.66 million with net gain of $1.035 million. (Note: The figures are in US dollars because these were culled from a report that the Philippines submitted at a global convention on postal services.)

The reputation of rampant pilfering—or theft of the contents of the packages sent via the Post Office—also affected PHLPost’s public image. According to Carmelli Butial, retail and acceptance section chief of the Central Post Office in Intramuros, Manila, even though there are no formal probes conducted, post office employees are often the main suspects because of their unadjusted and low salary.

She added that due to the lack of overtime pay, they only work and deliver mail and packages from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays.

Manual processing
Moreover, the Post Office is still stuck at the process of sorting the mails manually, mainly because of the limited funds given by the national government. This attributes to the slow delivery method, which therefore makes people choose private couriers instead of PHLPost.

Today, an ordinary mail will take two or three days to be delivered through PHLPost—unlike private couriers wherein a letter or parcel can be delivered within 24 hours.

Despite the struggles that the PHLPost face—some of which were inherited from previous administration—it slowly tries to embrace the fast-evolving world of technology.

“For us we always take it as an opportunity because, of course, the only constant on the world is change. So we really have to adapt those changes including technology—you cannot control it, so might as well get along with it,” Santos told The Manila Times.

Now, the PHLPost is under a three-year refleeting program where it will replace its dilapidated equipment with new and more updated ones, then add more machines and vehicles to increase its efficiency.

The PHLPost recently bought 12 six-wheeler canter trucks, four 10-wheeler trucks and 20 motorcycles to make its delivery services faster. This is also to compliment the increasing number of parcel deliveries—or those packages weighing at least two kilograms—which is attributed mainly to online marketing and selling.

From 157,804 international express mail service deliveries in 2010, the figure shot up to 681,489 deliveries in 2011, an increase of more than fourfold in just a year.

“With all the challenges, you can still see the enthusiasm and the drive to make a difference. Because before, the perception is that the technology is the one pulling us down—now we are now using the technology to our advantage,” said Antonio Sablan Jr., head of Corporate Communications.

The refleeting program is not only done to compete with the market, but also to regain the respect and confidence of the public.

Bloated organization
Interestingly, if there is one big challenge that the PHLPost faces, it is not the advent of the technology but rather the “bloated” organization and the small profit, plus the “unmotivated and unequipped workforce.”

“Yung malaking organization tapos kaunti lang yung kita. Ang pinaka first na ginawa nya [dela Cruz]is to right-size yung organization, kung ano lang yung kaya [The organization is big but the gains are small. The very first thing that Postmaster General did was to right-size the organization, what it can only do],” Santos said.

“Kahit na lumiit yung organization, pero mas efficient na nakakapag deliver ng mga services, the better [Even though the organization reduced in size, but it became more efficient in delivering the services, the better].”

Santos noted that the PHLPost has reduced its manpower from 10,000 to 7,000 all over the country. They are now being measured by their performance, which is measured by their function.

“We’re now removing the dysfunction inside the organization,” she said, adding that those being laid off are the ones that have pending cases. “We’re also trying to clean the organization.”

Relocation
Though not final, PHLPost is planning to leave its iconic headquarters of the last 86-years soon as the national government finalizes its transfer it to a relatively smaller building in Quezon City since its operations dwindled over the years.

Costly maintenance is one of the main reasons of relocation. According to reports, electricity and water bills total some P4 million monthly.

“This is a heritage building. It cannot be sold. It can go for joint venture and lease, but it’s not up to us. It will be decided by a committee that will be created by Malacañang which will involve this entire quadrant, including Intramuros and Metropolitan Theater,” De la Cruz earlier said.

However, Sablan said that the Post Office building is not only being eyed by the developer of Fullerton Hotel in Singapore—other groups are also interested of converting it into a library or a university.

The redevelopment plan also includes restoring of Plaza Lawton, Metropolitan Theater, and parts of Intramuros, Binondo and Escolta; yet it will still be decided upon by the committee headed by the Department of Finance when to start the bidding and construction of the project.

It will be held under the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership program.

The Central Post Office building, located at the Plaza Lawton and standing alongside the Pasig River, was built in 1926 and designed by prominent architects of that time, namely, Ralph Doane, Tomas Mapua, and Juan Arellano. It was seriously destroyed during World War II but restored exactly according to its design after the liberation of Manila.

According to the book From Galleons to Computers: the Story of the Philippine Postal Service by Chando P. Morallos, it is “considered as a perfect model of neo-Classical architecture popular during the 1920’s.”

It is called as the “Grand Old Dame of Manila” because of its beautiful architecture and imposing presence.

One of the most recognizable structures in the capital City of Manila, the Post Office building at Plaza Lawton is practically begging for the attention that such a historic edifice so richly deserves.

WITH REPORTS FROM JEAN RUSSEL DAVID

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3 Comments

  1. Good for them. It should have been closed long time ago for opening letters and stealing $$$. They should all go to HELL.

  2. mario rosete on

    It’s not em in the country but worldwide. In Canada, Canada Post laid off a part of its workforce and closed some postal outlets. With modern technology, post offices worldwide will go the way the dinosaur has gone.