There is a place in Manila where official documents and IDs of every kind can be made (i.e. copied from an original), customized according to your preferences, and made available in as short as two hours. You can get a college diploma for as low as P500 or have your marriage annulled, complete with court orders and annotated marriage certificates, at an “all-in” fee of P8,000. A driver’s license costs 500, a gun permit and NBI clearance at P5,000.

The street where these counterfeit documents are crafted is called C.M Recto Avenue, short for Claro M. Recto – a Filipino statesman, senator, and author of the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Ironically, the street has become the go-to place of people needing quick and “customized” official documents such as a PSA certified Birth Certificate, Certificate of No Marriage (CENOMAR), annotated copies of Marriage Certificates, driver’s licenses, Community Tax Certificates (cedula), DFA Red Ribbon, thesis papers, the list could go on and on. People troop to Recto Avenue for various reasons: school and job requirements, visa applications, permits, etc. Often, these are the ones who do not own an original copy of the document or ID or is not qualified to be issued the document or ID – hence, resorting to paying for it at Recto.

It is cheaper and faster to secure such documents at Recto. But it is also risky and of course, illegal. In spite of this, you will be surprised that the forgers’ services are offered by “middle men” and “runners” to passersby like these were candies and bottled water. You’ll be much more amazed at the number of people actually willing to pay for such phony documents and IDs.

Just recently, I made a quick trip to Recto Avenue to have a stamp made for my niece’s art project. While waiting for the guy to finish my order, I overheard two women speaking not very far from where I was. They were negotiating the price for a PSA Birth Certificate and a UE diploma (UE Manila is right at the heart of Recto and a stone’s throw away from where the negotiation was taking place).

Bigay ko na sa ‘yo ng P1,500, lahat na ‘yun. (I’ll give it to you for P1,500, that should cover everything.)

The other woman looked doubtful and asked for a discount; she said she only had P750.

I asked the guy working on my stamp order what is the going rate for a PSA Birth Certificate and if the price being asked by the woman is reasonable enough.

Depende kasi yun sa kinukunan nila. Hindi naman sila ang gumagawa ng mga dokumento kaya minsan, medyo mataas ang turing nila sa customer lalo na kung mga birth certificate ganyan. Original na papel kasi ng NSO ang ginagamit, may contact ang mga ‘yan na dating taga NSO. Mahal yung papel na yun, kaya mahal din sila maningil pag NSO ang dokumentong ipapagawa. (It really depends because these documents are made somewhere else, not by the stall owners themselves. They use the original paper from NSO for documents like birth certificates. They buy the paper from someone who used to work for NSO, that paper is expensive that is why NSO documents could be expensive here too.)

At this point, it looked like the negotiator and the lady customer failed to meet at a price agreeable for both of them. As the negotiator approached the area where I was seated, I asked her how much the lady was willing to give.

Masyadong mababa, 750 daw. Pwede yun sa fake na papel pero sasabit sya dun. Ang binibigay ko sa kanya yung umiilaw. Gusto pa nya may diploma, eh sa diploma pa lang 500 na. Lugi sa 750. Ikaw Ma’am, pagawa ka? (Her offer is too low; P750 is only good for documents on fake paper but that’s risky. What I was offering her was the original paper, the kind that lights up. The diploma alone costs P500 already; I’d be short-changed. How about you, Ma’am, you need any documents?)

I shook my head no and paid for my rubber stamps.

Later that day, I met with a college friend, now a solemnizing officer, and told him about my experience at Recto. He laughed it off and said that just before the holidays, he got hold of a fake annotated Marriage Certificate from a lady who wanted to get married to a foreign national this month (the lady is married to a Filipino but she claims that they have since filed for and were granted annulment of their marriage). He said that everything about the document could pass as authentic: from the kind of paper used to the unmistakable PSA logo on the upper left-hand corner of the document. It even has a barcode at the bottom of the page, complete with a series of numbers and letters to serve as the transaction code. However, when they ran a check on the bar code characters, it returned negative. No such records exist.

My friend said that everything can be copied or faked by the experts in Recto, but they cannot fake a transaction code that is uniquely assigned to a particular document/case. This goes for any other type of document or ID: transcript of records, driver’s license, birth certificates, and the rest.

How the forgery business thrived (and continue to flourish) in Recto Avenue in spite of the fact that it is illegal is a story all on its own. I have yet to meet someone who got away with the fake documents he purchased from the strip; was it worth the price and the risk?

In the case of the lady seeking to be married using a fake annotated Marriage Certificate, I am sure the answer is No.

Stay on the safe side of the street.

Also, be authentic.