Cebu as global citizens’ 2nd home
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - October 1, 2018 - 12:00am

We truly appreciate the promotional efforts exerted by the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), through its indefatigable Cebu officer-in-charge Elma Corbeta, in its dream of making Cebu as the most preferred choice of global citizens who are trying to find their second home.

However, just like any business, promotion will only translate into profits if the products or services offered approximate the representation it makes. Otherwise, sustainability is not even an issue worth delving in.  It is practically dead from the very beginning.

Notably, the idea of promoting a country as second home isn’t new at all. Malaysia started it several years ago and has now reaped dividends. What Malaysia did wasn’t something really special. It wasn’t something that is beyond every ordinary Filipino mind’s reach. They started it about 15 years ago when they launched "Malaysia-My Second Home" (MM2H). As a result, Malaysia topped other Asian countries for more than a decade now in the International Living’s survey for preferred destinations.

This year, 2018, is no exception. From the criteria by which the International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index was done, Malaysia ranked 5th. Thanks to the PRA, we now placed 21st.  Sadly, however, apart from Malaysia, other countries in Asia are way ahead of us. These are Thailand (14th) and Cambodia (16th).

As to why these countries are way ahead of us is not difficult to comprehend.  Never blame promotions because that concern is superlatively handled by the PRA. What needs careful study are the privileges and benefits we are trying to promote.

Should we attempt to compare our own program with that of Malaysia, yes, we fared very well in as far as the “fitting in”, “cost of living”, “health care”, and “entertainment & amenities” categories are concerned. This is because some of these aspects are excellently handled by the PRA. In the other aspects, however, like “buying and investing” category, we paled in comparison. Why? Due to some restrictions that our existing laws provide. Obviously, these are concerns that PRA is helpless.

For instance, the country’s time deposit requirement in obtaining the visa (PRA accredited banks’ certificate of inward remittance is necessary) ranges from US$10,000.00 to US$50,000.00 depending on whether one is a pensioner or not and his/her age. While it seems that our time deposit requirement is not stiff, its subsequent conversion is irrational. These required time deposits can only be converted into active investment through purchase, acquisition and ownership of a condominium unit; long-term lease of house and lot, condominium or townhouse for a period not shorter than twenty (20) years; and purchase, acquisition and ownership of golf or country club shares.

Clearly, in comparing ours with that of Malaysia’s, the issues on ownership of real properties and the conversion of the time deposit are the most discouraging provisions that made our program inferior.

For one, the conversion of time deposit is so limited and impractical to some extent. An elderly may no longer have the energy to play golf and, therefore, buying club shares is no longer an option.  Secondly, retirees who are already in their seventies may opt for spaces, greens, beautiful sceneries and the serenity of the countryside, yet, we only tell them to buy a compartment we so elegantly call condominiums.

On the other hand, we truly have retirees who are still young and vibrant. Since their time deposit requirements are also higher, definitely, they wouldn’t want to see it sleeping in the bank.

Energetic as they are, they might opt to use it for direct investments and help generate employment.  Unfortunately, however, our program prohibits such.

Indeed, there seemingly is an undying interest of global citizens in our country, in general, and in Cebu, in particular. Unfortunately, however, what we are trying to offer are sadly those that they don’t need.  What is important now is for all the players (especially, our lawmakers) to consider amending certain laws to keep abreast with the fast-changing environment brought about by the irreversible journey to globalization.

In this regard, the possibility of foreigners owning real properties inside accredited retirement villages must be given due consideration. Without these necessary changes, the dream of becoming the world’s most preferred “second home” may just remain as that – a dream.  Worse, the frustration it brings may just turn out to be as deep as a retiree’s final resting place.

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