Traveler’s tales
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Travel will always open your eyes to what you don’t normally see. For me, it always brings opportunities to call out things that authorities and the general public take for granted or fail to appreciate. You don’t even have to get far just to realize things that are amiss or are not given the appropriate attention. For instance, we only recently found out that “foreigners” who have Permanent Residency status are now required to pay the same travel tax of P1,600 as Filipinos do. While that may be an equalizer, what many Pinoys don’t know is that the same permanent residents also have to pay an exit clearance amounting to P2,170. That’s a quick P3,770 where the government cuts the foreigner both ways or as Filipinos call it, lagareng hapon. In this day and age when many Filipinos and Filipinas have married foreigners, that double blade collection of government fees or “lagareng hapon” of the republic can hurt the pocket or the family budget.

Not all foreign relations are breadwinners or moneyed. In fact a number of them are retirees relying on a fixed pension where they provide not only for their immediate family but also the extended relations of Filipinos. Then there are those who do a lot of goodwill work with NGOs and missionary/church groups. In my case, I’m representative of many Pinoys who are the bread winner and married to a foreign spouse so in the end, I/we are the ones shouldering the double blade collection of the Philippine government. This “racket” of squeezing every imaginable fee from foreigners comes from a time when foreigners were considered moneybags, business people or very rich travelers with dollars to throw. In this day and age of global communities and inter-racial marriages or partnerships, this policy of “double blade” collections is tantamount to a form of racial discrimination and outright exploitation of foreigners married to Filipinos.

What make the whole racket even more offensive is knowing that the Office of the President has been presented a project study where the TIEZA or the Tourism Infrastructure Economic Zone Authority has proposed to replace the travel tax on Filipinos and local residents with a “Tourism Development Tax” on inbound tourists that would be comparatively minimal in cost and value to tourists compared to the hit that the Travel Tax does on locals. If I’m not mistaken such a tax is imposed by some of our ASEAN neighbors and has been sustainable and politically correct for natives. The DOF and DOT clearly need to review the matter and reconsider the TIEZA study that would be politically beneficial to government. At the very least, the DOF and the DOTr should give us our money’s worth for the tax or the money they forcibly take from us. If the TIEZA gets such a big cut from the travel tax, then they should make sure that they spend the money first for the benefit of travelers in terms of better terminals, emergency facilities and support for stranded passengers whether airlines, buses or ships. If not then we should all protest this Martial law edict that government profits from!

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While going through NAIA Terminal 3 with a small group of business editors and columnists, I noticed that so much space was allotted to “wide walkways” or passageway and restaurants, while the pre-departure areas were narrow and cramped. Given that the proposal of “The Consortium” to renovate and upgrade the NAIA terminals was “returned,” it might be a good idea to simply invite a bunch of engineers and interior designers to re-configure the floor layout of NAIA 3 toward a passenger-friendly layout instead of trying to give the appearance of space and prioritizing locators and commercial establishments. So much space is wasted while travelers end up cramped like sardines in a can. Still on T3, a senior columnist who was quite tired from all the walking pointed out that a “walkalator” or the conveyor that transports passengers at the international arrival area remained out of order and has been for quite some time. Why is it that maintenance and repairs at NAIA are always dependent on the availability of parts? NAIA should have maintenance contracts with suppliers or make sure that they have stocks on hand of spare parts to avoid repairs that stretch into months.

On the good side, the frontliners of the Bureau of Immigration were out in numbers during our departure and arrival at NAIA T3 and we passed through quickly. When we arrived at Kansai airport last Thursday, it took us approximately 45 minutes to get through immigration because there were only 10 counters servicing over 300 passengers if not more. This recent trip to Osaka made me realize that even developed countries such as Japan has its limitations and face the same problems we do. In fact one thing I noted at the Kansai airport was the really slow internet or free Wi-Fi. When I mentioned it to the veteran travelers in the group, two chimed in that unlike Narita or Haneda airport, Kansai is categorized as a “budget airport” so the amenities are probably not up to par as Japan’s premier airports.

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In case you ever visit the Universal Studio Park in Osaka, be prepared to be overwhelmed by Chinese tourists! From our estimates the visitors to the park was 95 percent Mainland Chinese and given the prices for tickets and merchandise, one can imagine that the facility was raking in millions of dollars a day. This was a lesson in itself knowing that the park is totally American intellectual property in all aspects. The franchise is sold to a Japanese or American group, all the IP merchandise is “Made in China” and ultimately now being sold back to Chinese tourists by Japanese employees of Universal Studios! The Philippines and Filipinos need to study this business model because it makes perfect sense!

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