Senate urged to investigate increased presence of Chinese nationals in Philippines
File photo shows Sen. Francis Pangilinan during the Kapihan sa Senado Media forum.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo

Senate urged to investigate increased presence of Chinese nationals in Philippines

(Philstar.com) - October 28, 2020 - 5:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday urged a Senate panel to probe the national security implications of the entry of about four million Chinese nationals into the country since 2017.  

Pangilinan filed Proposed Senate Resolution 558 which directs the Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation to conduct the investigation. He said this would serve as a follow up to the findings of the Oct. 20, 2020 hearing of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality on the "pastillas" bribery scheme and abuse of the Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) system. 

"Given the lenient requirements for foreign national retirees and the seemingly unchecked entry of some 4 million Chinese nationals into the country, there is a need to look into whether this is an orchestrated 'soft invasion' of our country," Pangilinan said in the proposed resolution. 

'Soft invasion' defined

Soft invasion, the senator explained, was a term used by the former intelligence chief of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet, Captain Jim Fanell, to describe China's strategy of "invading" cash-strapped neighbors.

Pangilinan cited an interview with Fanell aired in November 2019, in which he described China's strategy in the South Pacific as a 'soft invasion' and 'expansionist,'" Pangilinan said. 

"This is worrying, especially since we have an issue with them in the West Philippine Sea," he added. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who led the panel investigation into the money-making schemes at the Bureau of Immigration flagged this data last October 20, saying "four million Chinese nationals arriving here since 2017 is comparable to more than the entire population of Quezon City." 

"Of these four million Chinese nationals, around 3.8 million were non-VUA applicants while around 150,000 were VUA applicants. Around three million of these non-VUA applicants are believed to have paid the extra P10,000 service fee in the 'pastillas' scam," she added.

Pangilinan pointed out that Fanell flagged China's use of cash to buy out local officials in the South Pacific in order "to gain access to ports and airfields and resources that give them a controlling monopoly in the islands."   

He also warned against the large number of Chinese retirees in the country, majority of whom are only 35 years old, comprising about 40% — or more than 27,000 — of the total number of foreign retirees. Sen. Richard Gordon called these statistics a national security issue. 

Pangilinan: China's increased presence, a problem in Philippine waters too

Pangilinan further argued that the outsized presence of China is a problem in Philippine waters as well. 

"In July 2020, the Philippine government protested the presence of more than a hundred Chinese vessels, which are believed to be part of China's fishing militia, in Pag-asa Island and the West Philippine Sea. Filipino fishermen in the area, who are civilians and have no military training unlike their Chinese counterparts, are subjected to threats and harassment," he added. 

Pangilinan also flagged what he called the exploitation of the country's national resources, citing data from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute released in 2019 which showed that the conservative estimate of the cost of damages in the West Philippine Sea ecosystem  incurred by China is pegged at P33.1 billion annually. 

"According to Filipino marine scientists, the damages in the reef ecosystem at Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands are mainly due to China's reclamation activities and illegal fishing operations," he said in the proposed resolution. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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