Spies, friends, and retirement visas | Inquirer Opinion

Spies, friends, and retirement visas

/ 05:02 AM November 07, 2020

Our “nationalist leaders” questioning our retirement policies is legitimate. But demonizing the Chinese, while ignoring “bigger elephants,” is contrary to facts, fairness, and good economics. Sensational headlines without holistic study will keep the Philippines an emotional and economic laggard.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was “staggered by 4 million Chinese” entering the country, quoting total tourists over three years as if they were still hidden here. Sen. Francis Pangilinan then warned of it as a “soft invasion.”


Data-based perspective: The Philippines had one of the FEWEST Chinese tourists in Asean at 1.3 million in 2019. Thailand had 11 million, and Singapore had 3.4 million. Japan had 9.5 million tourists spending $15 billion. Vietnam had more than 650,000 Chinese tourists in some months, even with ongoing disputes. (Vietnam surpassed the Philippine GDP per capita in 2020.) Chinese tourists are an economic engine that other countries work hard to court, and even Western nations are giving subsidies to be “invaded.”

Are tourists spies? As Randy David said, likely some collect intel, just as Malaysians who took Sabah, or Vietnam who took our islands, or the exceptionally large US Embassy contingent here, or Filipinos in the United States, all do in small percentages. The risks are manageable versus the massive continuing stream of income—not to mention the investments that follow when tourists like a country, and better relations that develop among people. Note: Wars for tech powers do not need regiments anymore, which Sen. Richard Gordon mentioned and Vice President Leni Robredo called “dangerous to our national security.”


Yes, there are issues, but we can manage these as we do others over time, by calibrated policy. We have passed periods of the US military shooting Filipinos and impregnating hundreds; Mideast countries exploiting thousands of our workers; the Japanese turning Roxas Boulevard into a giant red light district; the explosion of Philippine offshore gaming operators, which started with Japan and Korea before the Chinese; the Koreans numbering hundreds of thousands in the country. These relationships have adjusted over the years and become mutually beneficial, but we do still need reminders from time to time.

We can progress without fomenting anger and sowing fear, which some countries want us to do. Chinese tourists spent $277 billion in 2019, versus US tourists’ $180 billion. The Chinese assist massively in calamities and COVID-19 recovery and train thousands of our engineers nationwide, mostly unreported.

Overall, Chinese companies hire 80 percent or more Filipinos, but efficiency of coordination and technical needs require some Chinese. US and Japan contracts require their expensive consultants also. We should promote more mentorships for Filipinos to learn from the skills of the Chinese while they are here.

The “pastillas” scam should be controlled, but are the Chinese really the cause? Why is Singapore or Japan not having such issues? Our overseas Filipino workers, who are among the largest unofficial resident populations abroad, pay for entry in Europe, the United States, or China, but no one demonizes the Filipinos particularly.

Why have our senators, as well as former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio and ambassador Albert del Rosario, not called for a hearing on the United States’ illegal use of Philippine hex codes in military flights on the China border? Or US interference in Philippine politics? The United States also supports the overthrow of elected governments in Bolivia and Venezuela.

We can limit 35-year-old retirees or Pogos by policy if we wish, without distinction. Note that the required $50,000 each of the 27,000 retirees translates to more than $1.35 billion into the Philippine economy. Special visas are used for easier entry and exit, just as other nations give that as part of the benefits of investment or retirement, regardless of age. Chinese tend to aim to start enterprises, which expands the pie for everyone and employs local people. Ban them if they take Filipino jobs or engage in illegal activity, but allow them and tax them if they work to serve Filipino needs and spend their money here.

History has shown that, over time, the world is better off moving toward more engagement rather than isolationist, adversarial models. Good relations take time and are a constant work in progress.



Austin Ong is a research analyst at the Integrated Development Studies Institute ([email protected]).

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TAGS: China, Chinese, retirement age
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