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Filipinos in HK link arms to get travel ban lifted

18 February 2020

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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