The Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime H. Morente has released a statement that Chinese regular e-passports will have Philippine visas stamped directly on them instead of a separate paper.

The question remains: Is this an action simply to address security concerns or is it a sign that the Philippines is growing more accepting of the Nine-Dash Line, a demarcation line that China uses to declare sovereignty over the bulk of the South China Sea?

Morente’s statement seems to indicate that security concerns are the reason.

He said, “We support this policy update of the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). In the past, we have also expressed security concerns over the old practice because sheets of papers can easily be lost."

The practice of stamping the visas on a separate sheet of paper began in 2012 under former President Benigno Aquino III. This was meant as a protest to China because a map-like image of China was imprinted on the Chinese passports that included the Nine-Dash Line.

south china sea
Chinese structures are pictured at the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The demarcation line encroaches on the Philippines and other Asian countries' exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the South China Sea. China lost an arbitration battle when a United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling in 2016 went in favor of the Philippines. China has simply chosen to ignore the ruling. Since then, there have been many confrontations in disputed areas like the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal.

Current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a warmer approach to China since his election in 2016. There is a wealth of natural resources beneath the waters in the Philippines' EEZ that China needs and is willing to pay for. The caveat is that China will ask the seller to pay heed to the Nine-Dash Line over the EEZ. Duterte has seemed willing to do so after he and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently discussed a joint exploration agreement that would split the proceeds 60%-40% in favor of the Philippines.

Under the new visa issuance policy, any foreign national wishing to enter the country will first undergo a vetting process by Philippine Consulate offices. Also, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will strictly implement immigration measures so no Chinese nationals will exceed their allowable stay in the country, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

The answer to the question is that both scenarios, improved security and a softening attitude on the Nine-Dash Line, may have prompted the new visa stamping policy.