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Filipinos in HK link arms to get travel ban lifted

Posted on 18 February 2020 No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap
HK Filcom leaders meet with Consul General Tejada after handing a petition calling for a lifting of the travel ban

Several groups have joined forces to get the Philippines’ travel ban to Hong Kong lifted, as the Manila government prepares to review the restrictions that have left thousands of overseas Filipino workers and residents stranded in the country since Feb. 2.

The latest push came from more than 130 Filipino community organizations which signed a petition for the immediate lifting of the ban. The petition was handed this afternoon, Feb. 17, by 10 community leaders to Consul General Raly Tejada at the Consulate.

The representatives from various OFW groups, business, professional and academic organizations as well as churches, then sat down for a dialogue with ConGen Tejada on how the community can join forces in helping battle the contagion and get the ban lifted.
ConGen Tejada said he would immediately forward the petition to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which was at the time taking part in a meeting of the government’s Technical Working Group on dealing with the coronavirus, or Covid-19, contagion.

The TWG is set to present its recommendations to an Inter Agency Task Force which will meet in Malacang tomorrow, Feb. 18, when the travel ban is expected to be reviewed.

In Manila, a group made up mostly of skilled workers and permanent residents met with Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration at his office to formally ask for help in being allowed back to Hong Kong.
Stranded Filipinos ask OWWA administrator Cacdac (in blue jacket) to help push for the recall of the travel ban
The group told the OWWA chief that they fear losing their jobs because of the ban, and how it has affected their work and family life.

Cacdac reportedly assured them of his continuing support by presenting their case to the IATF tomorrow.

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At the same time, Migrante International held a packed press conference in Quezon City, during which several of those stranded shared their tales of woe. Again, the recurring theme was the fear of losing their jobs and livelihood.
Another group of stranded Filipinos at Migrante press con call for compensation apart from ban lifting
During his meeting with Filcom representatives, Congen Tejada said he shared their conviction that Hong Kong remains a safe place for Filipinos because of its   comprehensive and transparent effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Moreover, Hong Kong has one of the best public health systems in place, which ensures that anyone who gets sick gets excellent medical care at no cost.

He said Chief Executive Carrie Lam discussed her government’s effort to combat the contagion during a recent meeting with consuls general of various countries.
She reportedly took the diplomats through the emergency arrangements that had been put in place, including setting up a $10 billion relief fund for resources needed to fight the virus.

She also explained other measures taken, like reducing the flow of people between Hong Kong and the mainland, enhancing quarantine measures for those at risk of contracting the disease, promoting “social distancing”, boosting the supply of surgical masks, and ensuring transparent communication with the public.

Tejada revealed that that seven Filipinos had been put under quarantine, although none had symptoms. Three have already been released after the prescribed 14-day isolation period because they remained asymptomatic.

“What we should emphasize is that no Filipino has tested positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong,” he told the Filcom leaders.


Filcom leaders with Congen Tejada showing a copy of their petition


We, Filipinos currently working, studying, and residing in Hong Kong, reiterate our urgent appeal to the Philippine government to lift the travel ban that was imposed on the 2nd of February 2020, prohibiting all Filipino passport holders from departing for Hong Kong.

According to estimates by a group of Philippines-based recruitment agencies, around 25,000 overseas Filipino workers have been unable to leave the county because of the ban. Add to this an estimated 1,000 other Filipinos - skilled workers, professionals, students and permanent residents -- who have been left stranded in the Philippines.

We all feel that the travel ban which was imposed without a warning or consultation is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us, and was not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization.

The abruptness by which it was carried out also belied the concern for Filipinos abroad that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in numerous speeches and interviews.

For Filipino workers, the inability to return to Hong Kong could mean loss of jobs and consequently, loss of sustenance for their families. For Filipino scholars it could result in their failure to complete academic requirements. For Filipino permanent residents, including business proprietors, it could mean being separated from their families and unable to raise money for their rent and other expenses. 

All of us are bound to lose a lot because of this ban.

Health-wise, we also feel safer in Hong Kong where we are assured of excellent public health care at little or no cost to us. Some of us who have private medical insurance get the added bonus of being treated at private hospitals, also for free.

The government’s response so far to the crisis brought about by the travel ban leaves much to be desired. Each stranded OFW was offered Php10,000 compensation from the OWWA Fund, an amount that would not even pay for the expenses they had to bear after being stranded at the airport.

Moreover, non-OFWs were given no help at all, when many of them don’t even have houses in the Philippines, and have to pay for food and lodging while waiting for the ban to be lifted. They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong.

For all these reasons, we urge President Duterte to listen to our plea. Exempt Hong Kong from the travel ban. Allow us to go back to Hong Kong.
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Over 30 DHs fired as scare grips HK amid Covid-19 spread

Posted on 17 February 2020 No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao 
Some of those fired in HK had insisted on taking their day off
Around 30 domestic workers have lost their jobs in recent days due to the scare gripping Hong Kong over the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Office.

The termination cases reported to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office/OWWA are apart from the sacking of some of those stranded in the Philippines due to the travel ban to Hong Kong imposed on Feb. 2.

According to Dolores Balladares of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, her group has received three reports of migrant workers being terminated because they were unable to report back to work in Hong Kong as agreed upon. Another group, the Domestic Workers Corner, has received two such reports although the circumstances are unclear.

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OWWA welfare officer Marivic C. Clarin said the dismissals in Hong Kong reflected employers’ paranoia over the Covid-19 infection that has spread to the city from China at the start of the year.

Most of the contract terminations reportedly stemmed from employers relocating to China, Australia, Britain and the United States out of fear of the contagion that had infected 58 Hong Kong people as of Monday afternoon.

But Clarin said another cause of the terminations was due to workers insisting on taking a day off, despite a Labour Department advice for them to stay at home as the authorities battle to control the spread of Covid-19.
She said in some cases, the workers took their day off against the wishes of the employers and were dismissed as soon as they returned home. In most cases, the worker just wanted to send money home.

In one case, the worker was just asking permission to take her rest day when she was fired, Clarin said.

“Praning ang employers because of the virus,” Clarin said.

Clarin says some of the firings were due to the employers being unusually scared of the virus

One other reason she cited is that the employers had lost their jobs, too, and were staying home so they had no more need for the helpers.

Clarin could not immediately give a breakdown of the number of terminations because OWWA is still reportedly compiling cases passed on by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.
When asked about what possible steps a worker can do if she was dismissed for insisting on taking a day off, Clarin said the Labour Department did not mention any action against employers in these cases.

But she suggested the workers can take their case to the Labour Department as there has been no test case yet involving a dispute arising from the “stay-home” advisory.

As for the relocation-related terminations, the employers declared they were moving to other places so they had to dismiss their workers, Clarin said.

One male driver was dismissed on the spot by his employer last Saturday because the employer and his daughter were moving to Australia.

But the employer refused to give him a release letter, which the driver could show to Immigration so he would be allowed to look for a new employer and resume working without having to go home, Clarin said.

In many of the relocation-related dismissals, she said the employers refused to issue release papers because they were just relocating temporarily due to the virus and planned to return Hong Kong later.

She said Immigration should allow workers whose employers are relocating temporarily to also process new work contracts in Hong Kong.
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7 Filipinos quarantined in HK are symptoms free, says PCG

Posted on No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

Filipinos masked but safe queue for service at the Consulate 

The Philippine Consulate has revealed that a total of seven Filipinos have been quarantined in Hong Kong for being close contacts of patients who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19. But all are said to be healthy and without symptoms.

Three of those quarantined have been sent home after undergoing the mandatory 14-day isolation at the Quarantine Center and remained asymptomatic.
“They have since returned to their respective places of employment,” said Consul General Raly Tejada in a message.

“The remaining four Filipinos currently under quarantine remain healthy and asymptomatic,” he added.

ConGen Tejada said it is “important to note that no Filipino has tested positive for Covd-19 in Hong Kong.”
The Consulate’s report was forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is part of the government’s Inter Agency Task Force that will meet this week to assess the travel ban imposed on Hong Kong and Macau on Feb. 2.

Thousands of Filipinos who were barred from leaving the Philippines to return to their jobs in Hong Kong have been waging a campaign to get the ban lifted, saying it has caused untold suffering to most of them.
Many of those stranded are worried that they would lose their jobs because of the prolonged ban. Others say they need to go back to pay their monthly rents and other expenses, or attend scheduled medical consultations.

A group of Filipino community leaders representing various sectors, including OFWS, musicians, academics and church organizations are due to meet ConGen Tejada this afternoon to present a petition calling for the lifting of the ban. The petition has been signed by more than 100 organizations.

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Stranded Filipinos hope HK travel ban will be lifted next week

Posted on 16 February 2020 No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

OWWA administrator Cacdac says the ban on HK will be reviewed next week

Hopes have been raised that the Philippines may soon rescind its travel ban on Filipinos flying to Hong Kong and Macau, imposed on Feb. 2 as part of measures to deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.

This emerged after Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration  said tonight, Feb 15, on the radio show, Global Pinoy, that a government inter-agency task force (IATF) will be meeting next week to review the ban after a two-week observation period.

This was reportedly agreed upon during the meeting held by the task force the day before, during which it was also decided that a four-day ban on Taiwan should be lifted.
“Ang sinabi sa meeting kahapon ay matatapos na yung two week na observation and that there will be a discussion next week to discuss and look into the status of the different types of workers affected by the ban,” said Cacdac.

He told The SUN afterwards that the observation period started from the first Cabinet meeting held on Feb. 6 to discuss the spread of the disease.

But he cautioned against keeping hopes too high. “I am not saying that it will be lifted next week. What I am saying is that it will be discussed.”
His repeated references to “permanent residents”, however, prompted concern among listeners of the show hosted by Susan Ople and Fort Jose that the ban will be lifted only for this category of travelers and not for the tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers similarly affected.  

“Hintayin na lang natin ang meeting ng inter-agency task force, doon pag-uusapan ang status ng permanent residents,” Cacdac said at one point during the show.

Listener Amore Mio quickly responded to this with this online comment: “Bakit tatalakayin lang ata ang residents, so may possibility na ang residents lang ang pwedeng bumalik?”
The reference to residents, however, could be his way of explaining the vigorous campaigns waged by both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment to get the OFWs exempted from the ban since it may cost them their jobs.

This has prompted one of the show’s guests, Edward Borja from the Facebook group #StrandedPH, to ask if the plight of Hong Kong residents has somehow been overlooked because most media reports and official pronouncements only mentioned the stranded OFWs.

But Cacdac was quick to reassure him that he has been made aware of the residents’ concerns and that he had made sure they were relayed to the government task force.

He also said that in case a decision is made to lift the ban, it will be immediately communicated to the public, as what happened in Taiwan’s case. The airlines will also have to be notified immediately as major carriers have already cancelled most flights to and from Hong Kong, Macau and China until Mar 28.

Borja, his wife Sharon and another stranded resident, John Paul Adena, spoke of the uncertainties they face as a result of being stopped from returning to Hong Kong.

All of them fear losing their jobs should the ban last for an extended period, on top of worries about the high rent and other living expenses they still need to pay even while away.

All said their salaries would be stopped after they’ve exhausted all their paid vacation leaves.

Screen grab from livestream of the show with hosts Jose and Ople (above)
 and guestsTadena and the Borja couple with their daughter

Earlier in the program, Administrator Bernard Olalia of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration admitted being caught off-guard by the ban as did other labor officials as no prior consultations were made before it was announced and given immediate effect.

“Tayo rin po ay nagulat at hindi natin naibigay ang ating pananaw,” Olalia said.

But he said the way forward has become clearer with the planned creation of a technical working group composed of various government agency representatives that will advise the interagency task force when it reassesses the ban.

Several listeners to the show asked why the government managed to act quickly in lifting the ban on Taiwan, and dragged its heels for two weeks before reviewing a similar travel restriction for Hong Kong and Macau.

“Yung Taiwan pinakabagong ban. Tapos ang bilis ng retraction. Bakit kailangan pa maghintay for changes for outbound flights to Hong Kong?”, asked Katrina Teh.

To which Gaby Rizal agreed: “HK and Macau are not given the same importance as Taiwan!”

The Philippines lifted the ban on Taiwan on Feb. 14 after receiving threats of retaliation, including the withdrawal of visa-free access to Filipinos and the non-renewal of contracts of some 150,000 overseas Filipino workers in the island state.

Taipei was angered by Manila’s argument that it was only following World Health Organization guidelines which listed Taiwan as part of China.

To date, Taiwan has only 18 confirmed Covid-19 cases. But Macau which took a self-imposed lockdown for two weeks has even less, at 10, and has remained infection-free for the past 11 days.

Hong Kong on Saturday also enjoyed a rare day of no new coronavirus cases, which meant its total tally remained at 56. 

The city, however, faces the big worry of repatriating some 300 residents from the virus-plagued Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Yokohama in Japan. Although symptoms-free, the passengers will have to be put under quarantine for 14 days before they could be given a clean bill of health.

The stranded Filipinos say their basic rights have been violated by the travel ban
Nearly 5,000 people have signed an online petition started by the #StrandedPH group to get the government to allow Filipino residents and OFWs in Hong Kong to leave for Hong Kong.

The group has also taken their cause to the International Court of Justice, claiming the ban has violated their right to travel and resume their lives and work in Hong Kong.

On Monday, Feb 18, Migrante International will host a press conference at its headquarters in Quezon City where several residents and OFWs will talk about how the ban has disrupted their lives and caused a host of problems.

A separate group will meet with Cacdac and other government officials to submit a petition and discuss concerns which they want relayed to the inter-agency task force.

Simultaneously in Hong Kong, a unity statement signed by various Filipino community organizations will be presented to Consul General Raly Tejada, who has already promised to communicate their sentiments to the DFA and the Office of the President.
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