The Philippines will submit, at the ongoing bilateral talks with the UAE, a proposal granting visa on arrival for Filipinos coming to the country with the hope that something can be finalized in time for President Duterte’s scheduled visit in May this year.
This, according to lawyer Perfecto Yasay, Jr. who, in a recent trip to the UAE in his capacity as acting Foreign Affairs secretary, told a meeting with the Filipino community that he will “vigorously pursue” such a proposal. He expressed confidence the host government will give consideration where it’s due.
Yasay also paid a courtesy call on H.H. Sheik Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who personally thanked him for the valuable contribution of the Filipino community to the growth and development of the UAE.
Sheikh Mohammed also praised the contribution of the Filipino community in the development of the UAE, and also wished that relations would witness more development and progress in various domains.
“We will vigorously be pursuing this type of proposal,” Yasay told an audience of over 100 leaders and representatives of various Filipino organizations during the dialogue, which was held in Abu Dhabi.
“Bakit hindi na lang natin payagan (Why don’t we allow) – visa on arrival na lang for people coming from the Philippines? We can present this in the bilateral talks. We will make a decision on what is mutually beneficial for both countries,” he added.
The 70-year-old diplomat said there could be a “convergence” between the two countries regarding this.
“In the formulation (of the policy), it is always the national interest of the host country that is paramount over the national interest of the other. If there is no convergence and there is, in fact, a divergence, wala tayong magagawa (there’s nothing we can do),” Yasay said.
“Ano ang mga posibleng agreements for our Overseas Filipino Workers? (What are the possible agreements for our (OFWs). Rest assured, our host country is very cooperative (regarding) bilateral agreements that will strengthen our relationship and at the same time, also address the concerns of our OFWs,” Yasay further said at the Abu Dhabi town hall meeting held at Universal Hospital conference room.
Yasay, who said his official business for the trip was to work on Duterte’s visit, which was tentatively set for May this year, was appointed to his post by the president in May last year subject to approval of the powerful Congressional Commission on Appointments.
On March 8, 2017 – four days after he concluded his UAE visit – the commission rejected his appointment on grounds that he lied under oath about whether he had been a US citizen or not. He cannot be reappointed to the post as per the rules.
The following day, on March 9, Duterte appointed Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo as Acting Secretary, who will hold the post till the president finds a new Secretary.
Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno, Jr. said the bilateral talks, which came as a result of a high-level meeting between Yasay and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, last October in New York, will proceed despite Yasay now out of the picture.Yasay met with the UAE official on the sidelines of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“It will not be affected. There will be continuity. It is in the interest of the country. It’s a function of the (Philippine) Department of Foreign Affairs. We will continue to push for it,” Vingno said.
Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes for his part said, “The Philippine-UAE relations remain kahit wala na si Secretary Yasay. It is the function of the DFA to keep the relations running kahit magpalit ng magpalit ng nasa itaas.”
Cortes added that Duterte will certainly not be picking a replacement appointee who has reservations with his administration’s plans. “We still have the same president. The same architect of foreign affairs. The marching instructions of the president will still stand,” he said.
Vingno said he will work on the proposal. “That’s my role,” he said.
He added, “Isa tayo sa pinakamarami dito at ang presence ng mga Pinoy undoubtedly hindi na pwedeng i-take for granted. Kung nagbibigay rin naman ng visa on arrival, I see no reason naman… sana mai-apply din sya sa mga Pilipino. Naging parte na ng buhay ng UAE ang mga Pilipino.”
The proposal to grant visa on arrival to Filipinos was raised during the dialogue with Yasay, where participants noted that the UAE government may find it appropriate to approve such measure considering the Filipino community’s contributions to the UAE’s growth through the years.
There are approximately one million Filipinos in the country. A sizable portion of them has been in the UAE for decades, manning all industries from oil and gas to hospitality.
Currently, citizens from 49 countries, among them China and Russia, do not need prior visa to travel to the UAE.
High level talks
Yasay, who arrived in the evening of March 1, paid a courtesy call on H.H. Sheik Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, on March 3 at the Zaabeel Sports Club. This in his capacity as acting Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary.
According to the government’s Dubai Media Office (DMO), H.H. Sheik Maktoum “welcomed Yasay and his delegation, and gladly noted that th visit would invigorate the bridges between our two countries.”
“H.H. Sheik Maktoum personally thanked Yasay for the valuable contribution of the Filipino community to the growth and development of the UAE,” the DMO advisory also read.
The meeting was likewise attended by Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future; Dr. Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State for International Cooperation; and Khalifa Saeed Suleiman, Director- General of the Department of Protocol and Hospitality in Dubai, according to a press release from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
“Sheikh Mohammed and Yasay reviewed bilateral relations between the UAE and the Philippines, and ways to enhance them,” stated the MOFA media advisory.
It also added, “Sheikh Mohammed praised the contribution of the Filipino community in the development of the UAE, and also wished that relations would witness more development and progress in various domains.”
With Yasay were Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno, Jr.; Special Envoy Amable R Aguiluz; Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ariel Abadilla; Executive Director Reynaldo Catapang of the Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA); DFA Assistant Secretary Joy Quintana and Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes.
The foreign secretary had earlier on met with his counterpart in the UAE government, Dr. Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Asked what transpired at the meetings, Yasay said: “Ang official purpose ko coming here ay para i-arrange yung pagdalaw ng pangulo dito. We have tentatively set the date for the third week of May on the president’s visit. Mauuna muna ang pagdalaw nya dito sa Abu Dhabi then Moscow.”
He added, “Pinag-uuusapan pa lang naming ang mangyayari dito (We have just opened the discussions). Our government officials will now be working on this so that when the president arrives, the discussions are over and we already have an acceptable agreement.”
Some quarters within the community were however wary that a visa on arrival could open the floodgates for more Filipinos to enter UAE in search of jobs, which could diminish their bargaining power when negotiating for their salary contracts.
“At any rate,” said a Philippine government official requesting anonymity, “it’s a point to consider.”
Cortes for his part said Filipinos travelling to the UAE would still need to pass regulations by the Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BID) before leaving the country.
“Ang tanong eh, papayagan ba ng Immigration natin na umalis (kung walang supporting papers like bank statements) ? Nasa sa atin pa rin ang control if we will allow our people to leave,” he said.
Adlene Uy Panis, a restaurateur, welcomed the move but said, “Kaya lang, dadami ang mga Pilipino dito ng masyado. Mas mahihirapan maghanap ng work. So ‘pag hirap na, tatangap na lang ng maliit na sweldo. So bababa na ang labor value ng mga Pinoy.”
Engr. Jeffrey Uy, president of the Abu Dhabi-based, umbrella organization of Filipino groups, for his part said the idea behind visa on arrival “will surely boost job opportunities for all Filipinos.”
“However, there are several implications that need to be considered for the protection of our welfare. This needs to be studied properly,” he said. (Jojo Dass)