The Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) yesterday said it had started implementing an order to stop stamping Chinese passports that bear a map of China extending its territory to include disputed islands in the South China Sea (also known in Philippines as West Philippine Sea).
In a memorandum, Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. directed all field offices and ports of entry nationwide to instead place their stamps on the back page of a Chinese national’s visa application form.
The said visa application form should be attached to the passport of the holder upon his or her arrival in a Philippine port of entry and whenever he or she does business in any of the bureau's field offices.
David said his order was based on a circular issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in protest against China’s issuance of passports bearing a map that includes islands in the West Philippine Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.
David said immigration officers shall refrain from placing any immigration stamps on Chinese passports. The directive applies to all BI stamps, including arrival, departure, conversion, downgrading and extension stamps.
The BI order excludes diplomatic, official and service passports of Chinese officials.
The DFA earlier said the new procedure for stamping Philippine visas was necessary to reinforce the Philippine protest against China's "excessive declaration" of its maritime domain.
The DFA spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, said the new visa stamping procedure for Chinese applicants should not discourage Chinese travel to the Philippines as Manila continued to "promote people-to-people exchange".
"Chinese nationals who would like to visit the Philippines are very much welcome," Hernandez told reporters. "We have been trying to emphasise that the other aspects of bilateral relations should move forward. That's why we don’t think this will affect tourism."
The DFA has sent a circular to its embassies and consulates and to the immigration bureau advising them of the new visa procedure for Chinese applicants. Under the new rule, Philippine visas will be stamped on a separate visa form.
The procedure will apply to both old and new Chinese passports to avoid confusion among consuls and immigration officers, the DFA said.
"We are not stopping anyone from coming in, only that there will be new procedure, which would be done on our part," Hernandez said.
Chinese arrivals in the Philippines last year reached more than 240,000.
Jocelyn R. Uy/Tarra Quismundo
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