MANILA -- The Philippines immigration bureau on Wednesday said it has resumed stamping Chinese passports, whose pages bear a faint map showing Beijing's expansive claim over the disputed South China Sea.
The bureau said it halted stamping Chinese passports in 2012 in accordance with the Philippine foreign ministry's policy of issuing visas "on a separate sheet of paper." The policy came after Chinese and Philippine vessels engaged in a monthslong standoff in the Scarborough Shoal in mid-2012, souring relations.
After the reversal, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said, "We support this policy update of the [Department of Foreign Affairs]. In the past, we have also expressed security concerns over the old practice because sheets of paper can easily be lost."
The territorial dispute, however, is likely to go forward in the pages of Chinese passports. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in August said the Philippines' visa stamp will feature a map showing the country's exclusive economic zone "to its widest extent."
For now, the DFA's policy reversal is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to improve ties with China.
Chinese passport pages have images of the so-called "Nine-Dash Line," which China uses to lay claim to most of the South China Sea, in disregard to a raft of competing claims throughout Southeast Asia.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines claim waters that lie within the contentious line.
In 2013, a year after it stopped stamping Chinese passports, the Philippines sued China, and three years later an international arbitration court in The Hague sided with Manila, ruling that the Nine-Dash Line claim has no legal basis.
President Rodrigo Duterte began forging close ties with Beijing as soon as he came to office in mid-2016. China has rewarded his administration with investments on the archipelago, by importing Philippine fruit and by sending over Chinese tourists, whose numbers nearly tripled to 1.3 million last year from 2015.
Critics, however, accuse Duterte of weakening Manila's position on South China Sea issues.
Duterte maintains the South China Sea issue requires a "delicate balancing act."
Last month, Locsin called for a boycott of the DreamWorks movie "Abominable," which shows a map that includes the Nine-Dash Line. Vietnam did pull the film from its theaters. Abominable was coproduced with China's Pearl Studio.