MANILA (UPDATE) - Some senators on Monday questioned why the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) has been allowing 35-year-old Chinese nationals to enter the country as "retirees," saying it could be considered as a threat to national security.
Data from the PRA showed that 27,678 Chinese nationals have retired in the Philippines, making up over a third of foreign 70,000 retirees in the country.
Sen. Nancy Binay warned that the "probability" of young Chinese retirees exploiting their multiple entry visas to illegally work here is "very high."
"Ang laki nung Chinese retirees natin," she said.
(The number of Chinese retirees we have here is too high.)
"I don't know if we have the budget to monitor na hindi nagtratrabaho itong mga ito sa POGO," she said, referring to online gambling operators, a sector being blamed for a spike in criminal activities in the country.
(I don't know if we have the budget to monitor if these workers are not working in POGOs.)
South Korean retirees in the Philippines are only 14,144, while those from India are 6,120.
Sen. Richard Gordon wondered why Chinese nationals preferred the Philippines as their retirement destination over Hong Kong or islands in the Caribbean.
"That's dangerous... Why would they retire here at 35? Why don't they retire in their own islands?" Gordon said during a budget hearing in the Senate.
"All the people before the war in Japan were posing here as construction workers... making hemp... That is a national security interest," he said.
PRA General Manager Bienvenido Chy said the policy has been in place even before he joined the agency.
"In [South] Korea, the military would retire at the age of 35," he said.
"Investors ito na willing sila bumili ng condominiums para makapag-reside sila sa Pilipinas," he said.
(These are investors who are willing to buy condominium units so they could reside in the Philippines.)
Gordon said allowing 35-year-old Chinese "retirees" to own property in the Philippines is more "alarming."
"That, to me, is dangerous. I am disturbed by it," he said.
"Dapat nag-iingat 'yung Immigration diyan. Katakot-takot na lagayan 'yan," he said.
(The Bureau of Immigration should be careful there. That may involve a lot of corruption.)
Gordon, who will sponsor the Department of Tourism's budget in the Senate plenary, directed the PRA to submit more details about the number of foreign retirees in the Philippines.
"I don't care about [retirees from South] Korea... We have a problem with our neighbor (China)," he said.
"I am not against the Chinese people, but I am against the policies of the Communist party of China," he said.
China has been disregarding the Philippines' sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea even after an international arbitration court ruled in 2016 that its sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea has no legal basis.
"Give us a formal report on this... I would like to know who recommended the 35-year-old [age for foreign retirees]," he said.
"You don't bring the python into the hen house," he added.
Chy committed to submit the data and said that the agency will work to "make the proper amendment."
Gordon called on the Senate Committee on Tourism to amend the policy.
“The Committee on Tourism should look into this and maybe amend this particular provision, because the retirees, as you know, retire at average of 56 to 60 or 65. But you don’t want to retire at 35. My gosh! That’s very liberal,” he said.--With a report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News