By Genalyn Kabiling
BEIJING — The Philippines wants to attract more Chinese tourists but must also crack down on those who work illegally in the country, according to the country’s ambassador here.
Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana acknowledged that the Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Tourism must work closely to address the concern about foreign tourists getting employment.
“The issue of illegal or Chinese presence in the Philippines is an issue that is also subject to, you have to, if it’s illegal, you have to crack down what’s illegal,” he said during a press conference ahead of President Duterte’s arrival in Beijing.
“If there are loopholes, you have to plug the loopholes, okay. We are encouraging tourism right now, so we issue tourist visas here but they are stamped not for employment,” he said.
The crackdown on illegal foreign workers, however, must not hamper the progress in tourism traffic into the country, according to Sta. Romana.
He noted that around 1.25 million Chinese nationals visited the country last year, higher than 1 million tourists recorded in 2017 and 600,000 in 2016.
“I certainly agree with you. And this is something we’re trying to work out, how to tighten the…” he said when asked about closer coordination between the DOT and DOLE.
“Without sacrificing, you know, the progress we want to achieve in tourism, it’s how to avoid illegal or extended presence,” he added.
He claimed that it was a “domestic” issue, citing loopholes in the issuance of work permits.
At present, Sta. Romana said that the Philippines encourages the arrival of Chinese tourists since the country was at the “tail-end” compared to Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
“With the friendly policy that we have towards China, they lifted the travel advisory. They considered it now safe for Chinese tourists to go to the Philippines,” he said.
“Now, when they go there, so this is where the issue Secretary Bello was explaining that they have to basically monitor those who are getting work permits. It has to do with the issue of work permits,” he said.
Sta. Romana said they were also dealing with the same problem in China where some Filipino tourists seek employment.
He said China has deported more than a thousand undocumented Filipino workers last year. “Usually, they come here to work, to seek work, as domestic workers. They come in as tourists and they seek employment,” he added.
Meantime, Sta. Romana said the Philippine law enforcement authorities have implemented a crackdown against the abuse of Chinese workers in gambling operations.
He noted that China has expressed concern about the plight of Chinese workers especially those who end up victims of kidnap-for-ransom activities.
“I’ve had informal discussions with the Chinese about this. They’re concerned because some of their citizens are being killed, are being kidnapped,” he said.
Asked about the government’s commitment to helping those in need, Sta. Romana said: “There are law enforcement authorities, they’re trying to crack down on some of the — you know, their cases of kidnapping, there have been cases where they actually rescue or try to help them out.”
“So, actually this is one area of cooperation. We have a police attaché in our embassy. And part of the area of cooperation is — has to do with the anti-drugs as well as cases that involve Chinese citizens in the Philippines that need help,” he added.