Suspicious students in Cagayan | Inquirer Opinion

Suspicious students in Cagayan

/ 05:03 AM April 20, 2024

Just as Filipino families with financial means often send their children to prestigious schools abroad, the presence of foreign students in Philippine colleges and universities may be seen as a welcome development that indicates our country’s standing as a center of academic excellence.

The revenue from abroad has helped the economy as well, with little Korea towns sprouting around universities in Luzon and the Visayas to cater to the sizeable number of Korean students. Hosting foreign students, starting with Iranians in the ’70s, hardly raised eyebrows among the locals and the government.

In contrast, the alleged influx of thousands of Chinese students in some colleges and universities in Cagayan Valley has raised a red flag, prompting calls for investigation as a national security issue amid China’s ever-increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

‘Sinophobic sentiments’

Are our authorities just stoking “Sinophobic sentiments,” as the Chinese embassy has said in response to the issue, or should a serious investigation be mounted and the brakes applied on the entry of students from this neighboring country that has been trying to wrest control of our maritime territories?


That is the question facing government officials, following calls from senior House members to look into the curious case of Cagayan suddenly becoming host to many students from the Chinese mainland.

Two House members from Cagayan Valley, Cagayan Rep. Joseph Lara and Isabela Rep. Faustino Dy V, have filed separate resolutions calling on the House to conduct an inquiry on the influx of Chinese nationals in their region and other parts of the country. Their presence and alleged involvement in “spurious schemes” pose a threat to our national security, the two officials said.

‘Highly suspicious’

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers similarly called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines to look into the “suspicious and aggressive influx of Chinese nationals” around major seaports, airports, and military camps, particularly those that are identified as sites for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between the Philippines and the United States.

Lara described as “highly suspicious” the “alarming increase” in the number of Chinese nationals enrolled in higher education institutions in the province in recent years, which has caused worry among local residents.


Further, Chester Cabalza, a University of the Philippines professor who hails from Cagayan, said that some Chinese students pay as much as P2 million to get their degrees, even without attending their classes.

Chinese spies

Commission on Higher Education chair Prospero de Vera III has confirmed that there is a “significant number” of Chinese students currently enrolled at Saint Paul University Philippines in Tuguegarao, which he said was given an autonomous status by CHEd and the Bureau of Immigration to partner with foreign higher institutions.


But the revelation by Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco on Friday bolstered suspicions about the mysterious surge of Chinese students in Cagayan, which incidentally hosts two Edca sites and is located on the northeastern tip of Luzon facing Taiwan.

According to Tansingco, a total of 1,516 Chinese nationals were granted student visas in 2023, endorsed by a major Philippine university. “However, reports received only show more than 400 Chinese nationals are on-site, as the school is said to be implementing distance learning,” he said.

This behooves on the CHEd to get to the bottom of this mysterious arrangement, and identify other universities with large number of Chinese and other foreign students with questionable circumstances.


The Cagayan university and local officials must show the students’ credentials and locate them to help dispel suspicions that they are Chinese spies or “sleeper cells,” sent out to infiltrate the country’s strategic institutions in service of Beijing’s agenda to wrest control of the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine officials have reason to be concerned about this influx, given previous incidents involving the dubious activities of Chinese nationals in the country, from coming in illegally to work at the Philippine offshore gaming operator hubs, to being auxiliary members of the Philippine Coast Guard, the agency at the frontlines of protecting our maritime territories.

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It is incumbent on the immigration bureau and the Department of Foreign Affairs to step up and do their part as gatekeepers to prevent the entry of foreigners with dubious intentions. In light of recent concerning developments—the influx of Chinese students being the latest—these frontline agencies must be extra vigilant in issuing visas to foreign visitors, and in scrutinizing required documents in our ports and airports. No, not out of Sinophobia but because of the very real threat posed by China to our borders and national security.

TAGS: Cagayan, Chinese, opinion

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