POSTSCRIPT / August 31, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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US now has an excuse to take on Abu Sayyaf

THE over-confident Abu Sayyaf committed a big blunder when it kidnapped an American and demanded the release of the Arab bomber of the World Trade Center in New York in exchange for releasing its new hostage.

The Abu Sayyaf has just given the US, which must be chafing under the collar with Libya’s grabbing PR points by bankrolling the release of their European hostages, an excuse to insert itself into the picture.

We would not be surprised if the US actually baited that bunch of terrorists into grabbing the black American married to a cousin of an Abu Sayyaf commander with hints that he is a spy of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

* * *

IT must be obvious to most readers that the Estrada administration has lost control of the complex hostage situation in Sulu, especially with the twist of yet another nationality being added to the rainbow collection of kidnapping victims.

The ceiling fell when foreign governments growing impatient with the fumbling Estrada administration sent in their money bags to shortcut the painfully slow process by buying the release of their respective citizens.

The Estrada boast that no ransom was to be paid to the kidnappers grew hollow as millions of crisp greenbacks changed hands in transactions consummated right before the government’s eyes.

Since Erap Estrada had no participation in the release of the hostages before a watching world, the six hostages who were ransomed had no qualms about bypassing the President of the Philippines and flying straight to Libya to thank the strongman Muammar Khadaffy.

That was a slap on our President.

* * *

WE suggested earlier that many Filipinos visiting the United States would be less inclined to hide as TNTs (tago nang tago) if the US embassy in Manila issued them long-term (maybe 10-year) instead of one-entry short-term temporary visitor’s visas.

An intending TNT needs only one day (to get past the port of entry) to vanish, so it is immaterial if he carried a visa good for one day or one decade. Restricting him to only one visit of at most six months would not stop him from overstaying.

Temporary visitors would be less pressured to overstay and hide if they had multiple-entry visas to assure them of being able to make future visits without having to present themselves again at the US embassy.

What’s more, long-term visas would mean tremendous savings in administrative expenses for the US embassy since it then would not have to process the same repeat-travelers over and over.

* * *

COMES now reader Michael van Reenen, presumably an American, asking why US authorities should make it easy for Filipinos when Americans and other aliens are subjected to “unnecessary, time consuming and expensive visa regulations in the Philippines.”

He pointed out that:

  1. Regardless of how long a visitor wants to stay in the Philippines, the maximum period for a visa before renewal is 59 days. If a visitor takes advantage of the no-visa 21-day initial visit, the first “renewal” visa will be for 38 days only and the cost the same as for a 59-day visa.
  2. A visitor may only stay in the Philippines for a total of 12 months (six visa applications) and then must leave the country. The irony is that one can go out of the country for a few hours only and then return (which many people do) and one has then complied with the requirement.
  3. After the third visa application (for a total of six months) the visitor is subjected to an onerous alien exemption fee.
  4. After the sixth visa application (12 months) and the visitor has to leave the country, he is made to pay for an ECC (Emigration Clearance Certificate) plus a departure tax. He has to be fingerprinted when he gets his ECC.

* * *

RECENTLY, an optional facility called “Express Lane” was enforced as mandatory, according to Mike. He said this adds another P500 per visa application to a total fee that has doubled in the last 12 months.

“Express Lane” means that you can get your new visa details stamped on your passport in one or two days. Otherwise, you would have to wait a week, or longer, for your passport to be returned to you with the appropriate visa endorsement.

He says the “Express Lane” charge is still optional although Cebu City and some other immigration stations are reportedly insisting that the charge is no longer optional but compulsory.

A separate, unstamped receipt is allegedly issued for this fee. If the charge is compulsory and legitimate, Mike asks, why does this fee not appear on the same receipt along with the other visa charges or incorporated with them so that it does not appear as a separate item?

* * *

MIKE continues: “The immigration procedures here in the Philippines are not at all user-friendly and, in fact, are to the detriment of visitors to your country — particularly those who would like to stay a long time.”

We checked with the office of Immigration Commissioner Rufus Rodriguez and we learned that when an alien applies for the first extension of his stay, he pays assorted fees that include: application fee (P300), extension fee (P500 per month of stay), alien certificate of registration fee (P400), a head tax for those older than 16 years (P500), a visa fee (P1,000), and a legal research fee of P10 added to first three fees listed above.

The “Express Lane” fee is P500 for faster processing. The exemption fees that must be paid for more extensions after three 59-day extensions (or six months) add up to almost P5,000.

* * *

ON the other hand, Filipinos applying for a temporary visitor’s US visa pay $45 to the American consulate through a bank that collects it in pesos. At the prevailing exchange rate, that would be about P2,025.

The amount is not refundable whether a visa is granted or not.

On the other hand, an American tourist who does not stay longer than 21 days does not have to pay a single cent at the Philippine consulate where he applies for a visa. In fact, he does not have to get a Philippine visa stamped on his passport. He is given his duration of stay only upon arrival here.

The foreigner will start paying the various fees only when he applies for an extension after his first 21 days.

The glaring disparity in Philippine and American fees imposed on temporary visitors goes against the principle of reciprocity, especially of two allies with a long history of amity and cooperation. Theoretically, we must charge them only what they charge us and vice versa.

* * *

IT is axiomatic in Philippine politics for a new president to share the bounty with his supporters, not to mention his relatives. They are appointed to sinecure and given fat contracts as their share in the spoils of victory.

Pero para na ninyong awa, the President should at least admonish them to work for it.

In the case of appointees to high-yielding posts in government agencies and corporations, they should at least contribute to honest and efficient government and public service.

* * *

THE favored one who has been given the airport parking concession, for instance, should at least put in some money and improve the premises and the services. Whoever gets that business with every change of administration merely moves in – and starts collecting millions in parking fees.

No substantial investment or management skill is needed or forthcoming. That’s how lucky some people are.

One can locate the NAIA parking lot by just smelling his way to it. The stick of urine is wafted a mile away. Hole-in-the-wall stalls commonly seen in squalid squatter areas dot the place. Near them is a toilet with one bowl as urinal.

The litter and the filth make one wonder if he is at the country’s premier airport, the gateway through which most foreign visitors pass.

Hoy, mahiya-hiya naman kayo!

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 31, 2000)

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