The following is a news release from the Guam Visitors Bureau:
Today Guam Visitors Bureau President and CEO Carl T.C. Gutierrez announced that the bureau will use the United States Indo-Pacific Command’s overriding defense objectives in Guam and the Philippines as leverage to push Washington, DC for visa waivers for Filipinos seeking to visit Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program currently allows the passport holders of a dozen nations visa-free access to the unincorporated US territory of Guam and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Although most visa-waivered countries on the list are in the Pacific, the Philippines have yet to become eligible.
But Gutierrez asserts that US immigration security concerns have long been outmoded by traveling Filipinos’ status as educated upper-middle-income earners with rapidly falling overstay rates and high-tech ePassports outfitted with RFID tags. In other words, social and economic freedom has given rise to higher standards of living befitting travel without visas if not to the US mainland then at least to nearby Guam and the Northern Marianas, which all fall within the same archipelago.
“US Armed Forces strategy across PACOM’s dual-hemisphere Area of Responsibility requires Guam, the Philippines, and other Pacific access ways as deterrents against China’s communist influence, encroachment and aggression,” Gutierrez said.
“By hubbing and basing its way across the Pacific, America is defending a way of life that upholds economic freedom and cooperation. And it is by this token that we implore the powers that be in our nation’s capital to grant Guam and the Philippines’ mutual desire to drop the visa requirement on Filipinos who wish to visit Guam, and even the CNMI.”
Manila’s corridors of power
The announcement comes as House Resolution No. 332 urging US approval for blanket visa waivers for Guam-bound Filipinos makes its way through the Philippine Congress. The resolution, authored by Cagayan de Oro 2nd District House Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, was introduced on September 1st last year, within three months of a GVB delegation’s visit to Manila that included ten Guam mayors.
Rodriguez, who also serves as Deputy Speaker of the House and was appointed commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration by Philippine President Joseph Estrada, was guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Gutierrez and the Mayors’ Council of Guam in Manila last summer. Another gathering also included 17 mayors from the Philippines and Governor of Negros Occidental Eugenio Jose Villarreal Lacson.
The GVB president’s strategy is to build a grassroots network of Guam and Philippine mayors and other public officials to create a groundswell of popular support that can’t help but be noticed and appreciated by decision makers from Guam to Manila to Washington.
More recently, Guam Sen. Will Parkinson has introduced Resolution No. 14-37 (COR) asking Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to petition Homeland Security for visa waivers for Filipinos planning trips to Guam, under the authority granted her by Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.
Parkinson’s resolution states, “the people of Guam recognize and support the need for a Guam-CNMI visa waiver for the Philippines to grow our base of tourism, help boost our economic recovery and capture more of the growing tourism market from the Philippines.”
Parkinson has also stated publicly that the US military officials he met with on island had no problem with his push for visa-waivers for visiting Filipinos.
“US military contractors have developed an insatiable reliance on skilled Filipino laborers to continue building defense installations in Guam,” Gutierrez said.
“And our village mayors know why. Guam’s Filipino guest workers are representative of the high level of sophistication that the outbound Philippine travel market has reached. They reside in our civilian villages, make and spend good money here on island, and respect our laws and customs.
“And GVB statistics show that leisure travelers from the Philippines are among the highest spenders per capita among all Asian visitors whenever their US visa approvals do pull through,” Gutierrez said.
Rep. Rodriguez’s resolution observes, “upwards of 70,000 Filipinos residing in Guam beckon their families to visit them and hundreds of H-2B visa workers now residing in Guam also wish to be visited by their families.”
The resolution also points out that “U.S. passport holders have long been allowed to enter the Philippines without a visa [and]…the Philippines and the United States remain friendly defense allies and trade partners for the purpose of mutual freedom and security.”
According to Gutierrez, Guam’s mayors and vice mayors are integral to building bilateral relationships with their counterparts in the Philippines and a rock-solid case for Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., his cabinet, and the national congress to show how visa waivers will be good for the Philippines and Guam, including each destinations’ economic security.
“GVB extends its sincerest gratitude to Rep. Rodriguez and Sen. Parkinson for supporting our push to expand the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver program to the Philippines, Gutierrez said. “The Pacific community of islands cannot be expected to sacrifice dear resources to play host to the most powerful defense force on earth with one arm tied behind our back economically. No one knows our needs better than the folks who live in these communities. There has to be give and take.”