MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), upon the suggestion of congressmen, will consider relaxing its visa requirement for Chinese tourists despite the country's territorial dispute with China over some shoals and islets in the West Philippine Sea.
Members of the committee on tourism of the House of Representatives made the suggestion during a hearing Wednesday on why the number of tour groups from Macau and China has decreased significantly. Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez sought the inquiry in Resolution 732.
Specifically, lawmakers are proposing a visa-upon-landing privilege for Chinese tourists.
Wilfredo Santos, DFA assistant secretary for consular services, said an inter-agency task force that deals with immigration issues is scheduled to meet soon and the DFA would bring up the lawmakers’ recommendation.
“We will consider it and take it up in the inter-agency meeting,” he said.
He promised to inform the tourism committee of the result of the meeting.
He said several agencies are represented in the task force, including the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, DFA, Department of Tourism (DOT), and security and intelligence services.
During the hearing, Benitez, the fourth richest House member who has investments in casino and tourism projects, said the number of visas issued to Chinese tourists coming from Macau has been reduced drastically.
“In August, there were 6,218 visas issued. The number went up to 7,427 in September, then fell to only 25 in October, 20 in November and 22 in December,” he said.
He said he was wondering if the government was trying to prevent Chinese tourists from visiting the country.
“We should review our existing policies, because they are too stringent that they impede tourism. We cannot attain our target of 10 million tourists by 2016 if we stick to these policies. We are missing a huge income potential,” he said.
He then suggested that Chinese tourists not be required to obtain visas prior to travel and that they be given visas upon landing in any of the country’s ports.
Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos, tourism committee chairman, supported Benitez’s suggestion.
“Every country is chasing these Chinese tourists. We should be able to attract them because of our proximity to China. The trend nowadays is to relax the visa requirement, since we are becoming a borderless world,” he said.
Santos disputed Benitez’s numbers on visas issued by the Macau consulate, saying there were actually 43,000 issued in November.
“These were issued to Chinese tourists who traveled to our country through Macau. These were not Macau residents, because Macau residents can enter the country and stay here for two weeks without visas,” he said.
But he conceded that the Macau consulate drastically reduced the number of visas issued to Chinese tourists.
He said the consulate had to slow down on visa issuance for “security reasons” because the Chinese visitors were being handled by tour agencies not accredited with the DOT.
Besides, he said the Macau consulate was charging a visa fee of $30, while other DFA posts were collecting $35.
“We had to standardize the fee. We actually reduced it to $25 to encourage more Chinese to visit the country,” he added.