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HK-bound Filipino workers stuck in Manila as no end in sight to flight ban

21 May 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Many Filipino workers bound for overseas have been stranded since late last year

While more than 400 Filipinos are stranded in Hong Kong since early this year due mainly to Philippine Airlines’ frequent flight cancellations, possibly a larger number of workers are in desperate situations in Manila waiting to fly here.

The Hong Kong-bound workers, some waiting for a flight as early as half a year ago after being hit by intermittent lockdowns in the Philippine capital, say it’s not just them who are suffering. Also hit by the backlash are the families they left behind in the provinces.


Their dire situation got worse when Hong Kong imposed a ban on all flights coming from the Philippines starting on Apr 20, citing the worsening coronavirus situation in the country.

Banned alongside the Philippines were India and Pakistan, which were all categorized as “extremely high-risk” places due to the surge in the number of their Covid-19 infections.

Originally meant to last for only two weeks, the flight ban has now been extended indefinitely, as Hong Kong tries to ward off the spread of the more infectious coronavirus variants found in the designated countries which of late, also included Nepal.

Pindutin para sa detalye

According to Consul Paulo Saret, the Consulate was told this by Hong Kong Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong during a recent meeting held to discuss the SAR’s mandatory Covid-19 testing for foreign domestic workers and a planned compulsory vaccination.

Speaking in a Facebook Live interview with The SUN, Consul Saret said this was reiterated by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in a more recent meeting with consular heads.  

Consul Saret says Hong Kong's flight ban on the Philippines is imposed indefinitely 

Hong Kong's no 2 official also reportedly said that the lifting of the flight ban will depend on the number of recorded infections in the affected country, and how its government is managing the spread of the virus.

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Using this as gauge, it is not likely that the ban on the Philippines would end soon, as the country continues to be plagued by an average of 5,000 new coronavirus cases each day, with the problem being compounded by the discovery of new variants spreading within the country.

Deepening the woes of the marooned workers are debts they’ve incurred to pay for three medical examinations required by the agencies, at least two Covid-19 tests including one that should be given within 72 hours prior to boarding, and other prerequisites.

The workers said these pre-departure exams and tests that they had to undergo and pay for have gone to naught due to their cancelled flights.

Pindutin para sa detalye

Anne Frias, who came from the province, said she had spent Php47,000 on pre-departure requirements and other fees charged by her employment agent, not to mention her fares.

“Di po biro ang gastos namin. May mga dagdag pang rapid test na kamahal-mahal ang agency. Akala nila nagpupulot kami ng pera. Yung medical, pre-medical at final medical, Php10,800, tapos dalawang rapid test, Php3,600 yun,” Frias said.

(Our expenses are just too much. The agency even added a rapid test, which is very expensive. The medical, pre-medical and final medical cost Php10,800, then two rapid tests for Php3,600.)


“Ngayon 3x nang cancelled flight. Na-rebook ang ticket ko para sa June 1, hopefully makaaalis na,” she said.

(My flight has been cancelled three times. I’ve rebooked my ticket for June 1, hopefully I’ll be leaving soon.)

If she gets lucky, she would just be in time for the easing of travel restrictions on the Philippines. Hong Kong just finished its bi-monthly review of its inbound restrictions for travelers on May 18, which means the next assessment will be on or before June 1. 

Many OFWs have been stuck after HK imposed 21-day hotel quarantine on all new arrivals

Cristine Santos Permosil said she had been waiting for six months and each time her departure date neared, her flight would be cancelled because of tightened restrictions. She said she had to undergo a medical exam three times, only to be overtaken by her visa lapsing.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

Ien Navarra said her flight to Hong Kong was set for Apr 29, but this was overtaken by the flight ban on the Philippines.

“Laking hirap po, laki ng nagastos. Sana po ma-lift na po ang ban. Nag-alala din po ako baka mag-back out na ang employer ko, pero nakaka-chat ko naman po sila sa Whatsapp,” Navarra said. 

(Such a big problem, I’ve already spent much. I hope the ban will be lifted soon. I’m worried that my employer would back out, but I keep in touch with them on Whatsapp.) 

She said there are times when she thinks she should just apply for a job in the Middle East because her family needs her support badly. Her mother and her daughter rely on her solely for support as her elder sister has just undergone surgery to remove a myoma and is unable to work.

Another worker, Myah Arduo Labuena Atinon posted on The SUN’s Facebook how distraught she felt when she learned about the flight ban as she was supposed to leave for Hong Kong on Apr 20, the very day it took effect.

She rebooked her flight for May 11, then May 19, and is now at a loss on when she can actually leave as Hong Kong has yet to indicate when it intends to review its travel ban on the Philippines.

Maria Flor, who is also Hong Kong-bound, said she did not want to be vaccinated, but in her intense desire to take up the job, she had taken the jab, and will be getting her second dose on May 29.

She said her flight on May 4 was cancelled, then her May 20 booking as well. She hopes that the flight ban will be lifted soon because the cost plus the stress of waiting in Manila has been very taxing.

A fellow worker echoed Maria Flor’s and the other stranded domestic helpers’ woes. Mhai Rah said her flight for Apr 22 had been rebooked for May 6 and then May 20. But she was still stuck in Manila on Thursday.

Gedine Balberde said she and several other workers who went home for a vacation are now stranded in the country. Through group chat, they exchange news about their flight.

Sobrang hirap din kasi nagbakasyon ka lang din dito tapos mahirap makabalik dyan, lalo na may mga naiwan kang utang, at sa mga amo mo din, sa paghihintay nila…Naaaburido na din kami, yung iba nag-back out na at nag-a-apply na lang sa ibang bansa,” she said.

(It’s very hard because you come home for your vacation and then it’s difficult to go back there, especially since you have debt to repay, and to your employers, too, who kept waiting.)

For now, all they can do is hope and pray that the country manages to put the coronavirus infection under control, and convince Hong Kong to open its doors to Filipino travelers  again.


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