Prisoner swap, visa applications up

President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during bilateral talks discussed the possibility of prisoner swapping between Filipinos and Chinese arrested in relation to drug crimes in both countries.
“One of the problems we have here that has accumulated through the years is the number of Filipinos who have been detained because of being drug mules or for carrying illegal drugs,” Ambassador Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana said.
The Chinese have standards for what constitutes illegal and serious crimes, he added.
The ambassador further said one of the issues discussed was “the possible agreement of sentenced persons because there are also Chinese who are serving in the Philippines.”
Sta. Romana said the justice department, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, is the lead agency.
Sta. Romana said most of the arrested Filipino drug mules were apprehended upon entering China from a third country, and not from the Philippines.
There are two Filipinas on death row but there are no imminent signs that they will be executed.
Sta. Romana said the embassy has hired lawyers to appeal their cases.
Visa applications
The Philippine embassy in Beijing reported a 200-percent increase in visa applications for tourism and business to the Philippines, with consulates all over China deluged with visa applications, necessitating the embassy to tap more employees.
Sta. Romana said there was a big decline in Chinese tourism “before we resolved the underlying issues in the South China Sea.”
On recommendation from their central government, Chinese travel agencies started booking tours to the Philippines, following the shift in Duterte’s foreign policy aligning with Beijing.
“China basically constitutes a big demand of visas because of tourism and business travel,” Sta. Romana said, adding the Philippine government aims to double tourism arrivals this year.
“We will hit one million arrivals this year. We are just scratching the surface here,” he said.
Records showed there was a total of 675,663 arrivals from January to December last year, which represents a growth of 37.65 percent compared to 2015.
For January to February this year, the Philippines recorded a 25.42 percent increase in the number of tourist arrivals compared to the same period last year.

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