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 to some, being born as a Filipino citizen can also mean having a weak passport printed next to our names.
And just like you, someone from a third-world country also dreams of seeing the other side of the world too. The only difference is that we don’t share the same privilege only because, 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 the countless times, watching travel vloggers & bloggers encourage everyone to just pack and go makes it easy for me to believe that it is royally 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 visa that can take up from 2 weeks to a year to be approved. Or an employment requirement from their home country. Even deciding how capable they are through their bank accounts. Did I mention that it’s imperative for us to always have a return and/or forward plane ticket as well to prove that we are only visiting the country and not planning to get a job there? You will think by now that it might be a form of judgment or silent discrimination, but that is how this world is built, isn’t it? It needs rules. Justifying 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 from the third world. On not being nervous for many weeks praying that I won’t get denied for a visit visa. And probably traveling continuously without the fear of getting rejected from every embassy. I could totally pull out a wondrous itinerary if that’s the case! One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll walk chin up and smiling to every immigration officer because I will be presenting a passport that is the most powerful in the world.
But I am not from Japan. And I definitely do not have a strong passport.
Passport privilege is a reality. 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 poor country. By that, I wish I could be breathing calmly and not worrying as they stamp it and hand it back to me.
An entry into another country is a privilege and not a right.
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. Comparing them to the advantage of a South Korean national that can fly on a whim to any of the 170 countries, can only make me sigh so hard.
Another question that I used to ask myself when I was younger was that why are my Canadian friends can freely visit me in the Philippines whenever they want to while I needed to gather and complete all the supporting documents because I need to secure a visit visa firsthand before I am allowed to come to Canada? I am aware how silly it is to think that way now that you can throw a lot of reasonable facts to rub it in my face explaining why the world is like that.
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. And that’s because the Filipino community has always been so welcoming to travelers from all over the world! But as of today, not a single country in Europe has given the Philippines a license to visit and see what it’s like in their European countryside visa-free. Even Spain, the country who 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; although Filipinos only need two years of legal residency in Spain to be able to apply for Spanish citizenship. I mean, traveling through the back doors of majestic Europe is not impossible for us at all! And that is the magic of Schengen Visa.
But you see, there were no spontaneous trips to Disneyland on weekends for Philippine passport holders. Neither unplanned long-term backpacking trip for self-discovery purposes. Or even an impromptu family summer get-away to the Swiss Alps, Italian Coastline or South of France.
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 (mostly Filipinas) out there who managed to travel all the seven continents without the power of a privileged passport. It’s only a proof that if you really want to do something, you do it even if the odds are against your favor. These people just literally transformed their weak passport into a powerful one!
And while it’s mostly true that we cannot choose where we come from, we can always choose where we go from there. That even if we cannot reach the books from the topmost shelves, that doesn’t stop us from getting a ladder for climbing all the way up.