By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
For unspecified national security reasons, President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) 72 regulating the arrivals of foreigners in Subic Bay which was observed to have become an extremely popular docking stop for international cruise ships along with Boracay island resort.
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said at least 20 international cruise ships docked in the country this year. These included Italian-operated MV Costa Atlantica, Hong Kong-operated MS Superstar Gemini and MV Glory Sea and two other cruise ships operated by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line — MS Ovation of the Seas and MS Voyager of the Seas.
SBMA Chairman-administrator Wilma Eisma looked at the increase of the port calls of international cruise ships in Subic as a “new milestone” and a “surge.” Eisma said with the recent port call of the luxurious MS Bremen, Subic has become a preferred destination for cruise ships.
“Subic is ready to offer the best tourism facilities and services for cruise-ship passengers, and we are betting that our visitors would find their experiences here — as well as in the neighboring areas of Zambales and Bataan — most memorable,” Eisma said.
The same phenomenon is taking place in Boracay, where stakeholders belonging to the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI) initially opposed the docking of cruise ships for fear of the environmental degradation it will bring to the just rehabilitated island resort.
A regular cruise ship dumps into a host port up to 1,600 foreign tourists and 1,000 crew members who would stay in the country for weeks.
But BFI had a recent change of heart. “Right now, since Boracay is already environmentally safe, we are considering to support the cruise ship tourism. We are, however, still studying if we could officially support it,” BFI President Maylynn Graf said.
In EO 72, foreigners on cruise ships are only allowed to stay in the country for a maximum of 14 days without a visa. Planned extensions would require them to present to the Bureau of Immigration their passports and certificates of travel documents valid for at least six months.
Moreover, foreigners are only allowed to leave the country through the Subic Bay International Airport or the Subic Bay Piers and Wharves.
In Boracay, the BFI said it is reviewing its earlier position on international cruise ships making a “beeline” to dock in the island resort.
Graf noted that cruise ships included Boracay as a stop after Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores signed in 2015 a memorandum of understanding with the Miami, Florida-headquartered Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Graf said BFI’s review comes after Boracay was reopened to tourists on October 26, six months after it was closed for rehabilitation. She also noted that a cruise ship arrived in Boracay on December 18 bringing some 3,000 tourists.
Earlier, Caticlan and Cagbarn jetty port administrator Niven Maquirang said they are expecting some 28 cruise ship port calls at Boracay next year.
Duterte’s EO 72 amended EO 271 signed by former President Fidel Ramos in 1955 governing the admission and stay of foreign nationals in Subic as temporary visitors.
Based on Duterte’s EO, the amendment was done to prevent the arrival of foreigners being a “detriment to national security,” although it did not specify particular nationalities.
It also noted that each international cruise ship that arrived in the Philippines this year was estimated to have an average of 1,600 passengers and 1,000 crew members onboard.
“It is anticipated that there will be a continued increase in cruise ship arrivals in Subic Bay in 2019 onwards,” the EO stated. The news caused some social media users to express their concern on the said influx.
Under EO 72 visiting cruise passengers shall be asked to pre-book their activities, either as water sports or island tours and dining, a condition set forth by the government task force overseeing the popular tourist destinations.
Environment Undersecretary Sherwin Rigor said, “we’re still finalizing the guidelines for the arrival of cruise ships. We just need to put in place environmental guidelines and tourist distribution activities.”