Traveling as a Filipino Citizen: Going Around the World With a ‘Weak’ Passport
Marron Santillan | June 19, 2020
Being born in a paradise country with 7,641 tropically splendid islands like the Philippines is probably one of the greatest gifts a thalassophile can ever receive from the universe. Being surrounded by a community that is hospitable, helpful, hardworking, loving, and caring is a major bonus too. But as lucky as I am to be born a Filipino, my citizenship also means having a weak passport. As someone from a third-world country who dreams of seeing the other side of the world, this is a sad reality: my passport is not as strong as my traveler’s heart wishes it to be.
As per Henley & Partners Passport Index, the Philippine Passport ranked 76th in 2020 and can travel to 67 destinations visa-free/visa on arrival.
For countless times, I've watched travel vloggers & bloggers encourage everyone to just pack and go, making it easy for me to believe that travel is universally accessible for all. Forgetting the fact that while everyone else can just hop on a plane easily without questions being asked, some people out there still need to process certain visas that can take up from 2 weeks to a year to be approved. Or an employment requirement from their home country. Or proof of financial capability through their bank accounts. Did I mention that it’s imperative for Filipino to always have a return and/or forward plane tickets to prove that we are only visiting the country and not planning to get a job there? You will think by now that these would be considered a form of judgment or silent discrimination, but that is how this world is built, isn’t it? It needs rules. It justifies Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe when he said we are not all equal, nor can we be so.
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be a Japanese passport holder – having access to travel to 191 countries freely without the fear of being offloaded only because your passport is not the kind they want to accept. How is it like not to be a nervous wreck for many weeks, praying that I won’t get denied for a visitor's visa? What would it be like to travel continuously without the fear of getting rejected from any embassy? I could totally pull out a wondrous itinerary if that’s the case! One thing I’m sure of is that I would be able to walk chin up and smiling to every immigration officer because I will be presenting a passport that is the most powerful in the world!
Sadly, I am not from Japan. And I definitely do not have a strong passport.
Passport privilege is a reality. The truth is, I want to hand my passport to an official of a foreign country without the feeling of being judged that I will illegally work there only because I am from a developing country. I wish I could be breathing calmly and not worrying as they stamp it and hand it back to me.
I used to ask myself when I was younger: why can my Canadian friends freely visit me in the Philippines whenever they want to whereas I need to gather and complete all the supporting documents to secure a visitor's visa before I am allowed to go to Canada?
The Filipino community has always been so welcoming to travelers from all over the world. I know a lot of Europeans who fell in love with the Philippines, saying that this tropical paradise is one of their favorite gems in Southeast Asia. But, as of today, not a single country in Europe has given the Philippines a license to explore what it’s like in the European countryside visa-free. Even Spain, the country that colonized the Philippines for 300 years (not to mention leaving us with Spanish surnames, mestizo descent, and their culture) hasn’t provided a visa-free benefit for Filipinos.
There are no spontaneous trips to Disneyland on weekends for Philippine passport holders. Neither are unplanned long-term backpacking trips for self-discovery purposes. Not even an impromptu family summer get-away to the Swiss Alps, the Italian Coastline, or the South of France.
I suppose we are luckier than most. People from Afghanistan, for example, can only travel visa-free to 35 countries, which makes them one of the weakest passport holders in the world. But, comparing that to the advantage of a South Korean national who can fly on a whim to 170 countries makes me sigh with longing and regret.
An entry into another country is a privilege and not a right.
Are we mad about it? Definitely no. Does having a weak passport stops us from traveling the world? Absolutely not. There are a lot of Filipino travelers who managed to travel all the seven continents without the power of a privileged passport. It’s only proof that if you really want to do something, you find a way to do it even if the odds are against your favor. These people just literally transformed their weak passport into a powerful one!
We cannot choose where we come from but we can always choose where we go from there. Even if we cannot reach the books from the topmost shelves, that shouldn’t stop us from getting a ladder for climbing all the way up.