Visa-free: Myanmar opens up to PH tourists

MYANMAR'S GEMS. They surely await in Bagan.

Photo from Myanmar's tourism website

MANILA, Philippines – Temples that date back to the 12th century, ancient carvings, and a former capital called the Garden City of the East. Time to see all these in Myanmar – visa-free for 14 days.

A pariah that broke free from military rule after 50 years, Myanmar opened up to Filipino tourists on Thursday, December 5, after the former military junta signed a historic deal with the Philippines.

The Memorandum of Agreement on Visa Exemption is “granting Filipinos who are holders of ordinary passports visa-free entry to Myanmar for tourism and business purposes,” Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said in a joint media briefing with Myanmar President U Thein Sein.

Thein Sein is on a 3-day state visit in the Philippines.

The deal allows ordinary passport holders from the Philippines to visit Myanmar for up to 14 days. It was signed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and his Myanmar counterpart, Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin.

The Philippines already grants Myanmar nationals a 30-day visa-free privilege under Executive Order 408, which was signed in 1960.

Loosening up

Myanmar has long implemented one of the most stringent visa rules in the region. It is now easing its visa requirement while on a democratic transition.

Based on its latest government records, Myanmar has also granted a 14-day visa-free privilege to ordinary passport holders in Laos and Vietnam. Those from Cambodia have to get a visa on arrival good for 28 days. 

Myanmar has not granted the same privilege to its other neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At the same time, it has one of the lowest tourism rates in the region.

Aquino said: “We had the chance to pay a short visit to their country earlier this June – and we are pleased that more Filipinos will have greater opportunities to see the beauty of Myanmar. This will also facilitate the people-to-people exchanges that are vital to our countries’ relationship."

In his speech, Thein Sein said ties between the Philippines and Myanmar have been “growing not only bilaterally but also in the regional and international fora.”

“I am convinced that this growing cooperation contributes to the progress and prosperity of the peoples of our two countries and of the region as a whole,” Thein Sein said.

BEAUTIFUL. Yangon tourists will surely ask if this is Photoshop.

Photo from Myanmar's tourism website

Few tourists in Myanmar

The visa exemption deal is seen to boost tourism in Myanmar, a country full of tourist attractions but struggling to lure more visitors. (READ: The many hitches of Myanmar.)

Myanmar has the second lowest number of tourists in ASEAN, according to the latest regional statistics.

The ASEAN Tourism Statistics database said that in 2011, only around 816,400 tourists visited Myanmar.

On the other hand, 3.92 million tourists went to the Philippines that year. The Philippines had the 6th most number of tourists then – and that was before it revitalized its tourism campaign, “It's More Fun in the Philippines.”

Philippine statistics show that the Philippines got 4.27 million tourists in 2012.

Going beyond tourism, the deal will also help trade between the the Philippines and Myanmar.

In 2012, Myanmar ranked 3rd to the lowest among the Philippines' trading partners in ASEAN. It only fared better than Cambodia and Laos.

The Philippines and Myanmar traded only $47.07 million in 2012. This is a measly amount compared to the $9.27 billion total trade between the Philippines and its biggest ASEAN trading partner, Singapore.

HISTORIC TRIP. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (right) welcomes Myanmar President U Thein Sein, who visits the Philippines for the first time.

Photo by Ryan Lim/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

Trade, food, info deals 

The Philippines and Myanmar also signed the following deals during Thein Sein's state visit:

Aquino said that from Manila, Thein Sein and his delegation will also fly to Cebu on Friday, December 6, “to show support for our relief efforts.” Myanmar's leader will bring “a team of doctors and two tons of relief goods.”

Aquino thanked Thein Sein for this, as well as for the Myanmar government's donations for survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan): $100,000 in humanitarian aid and 7 tons of relief goods.

The Philippine President also said his country supports Myanmar as it chairs the ASEAN in 2014. (Watch more in the video below.)

Thein Sein, for his part, thanked the Philippines “for the continuous support on Myanmar's transition toward democracy.”

He noted his country is “making engagements with the internal political forces,” and has “offered peace talks to the ethnic armed groups in the country to achieve national reconciliation.”

“All these efforts resulted in creating an environment of political stability and rule of law. At the same time, government has also been creating opportunities for good economic environment and foreign direct investment,” Thein Sein said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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