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Malacanang keeps firm on travel ban despite diplomats’ appeal

13 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Ambassador Sta Roman says top DFA officials have called for the lifting of the travel ban

The Philippine government has remained firm in its decision to ban flights to and from Hong Kong, Macau and China, despite appeals from its top diplomats for a partial lifting so Filipinos who work and live in the affected areas could leave the country.

According to Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta Romana, top officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have interceded on behalf of the thousands of Filipinos who have been left stranded since the ban was imposed on Feb 2.

“Senior officials at the DFA are lobbying to lift this travel ban and allow those with valid work permits to return to China, Hong Kong and Macau (and now Taiwan), but the decision will be made by Malacanang, upon the recommendation of an inter-agency committee led by DOH (Department of Health),” Ambassador Sta Romana said in a message on Feb 12.
Leading the call is Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., who said on Twitter that he had advised President Rodrigo Duterte to allow the stranded workers to return to their jobs.

Tagging a report that the first Filipina to be quarantined in Hong Kong had been released after showing no signs of the virus, Locsin said: “This is important to my advice to the President to finally grant my wish to let our domestic workers return to their good Chinese employers in Hong Kong who want them back.”

But five days after the tweet, Malacanang did not only keep the travel restriction, but expanded it to include Taiwan, which it said was part of greater China.
Some of the estimated 20,000 affected OFWs seeking financial aid from OWWA
Consul General Raly Tejada has also repeatedly expressed concern about the plight of the tens of thousands of Filipinos affected by the ban. These include not only migrant workers but also Filipino residents who work and live with their families in Hong Kong.

In his most recent show of support, ConGen Tejada said he was forwarding to the Home Office the sentiments expressed by those who signed an online petition for the recall of the ban, which was put up on the social media platform,
On Feb. 3, he also monitored keenly a cabinet meeting called by President Duterte to discuss the measures taken to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, and was disheartened when no mention was made about the ban’s impact on Filipinos in Hong Kong.

The ban was imposed after the Philippines reported its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. The two were a couple from Wuhan city, the epicenter of the contagion in China, who arrived in the Philippines on Jan. 21.

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The woman was said to be still undergoing treatment in San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, but her 39-year-old companion had died just before the ban took effect.

The Philippines has reported three confirmed infections, including the couple, and 70 other suspected cases.

Unifil HK calls the ban an 'exaggerated response' to the coronavirus outbreak
Migrant organization United Filipinos in Hong Kong has denounced the travel ban as coming too late, as it was declared only after a death from the coronavirus had occurred, and after hundreds (if not thousands) of Chinese were allowed to enter the Philippines freely.

But the group also called the ban an “exaggerated response” for including Hong Kong and Macau.

The group called on the government to allow Filipinos to return to Hong Kong, especially OFWs whose jobs have been left hanging in the balance because they are unable to leave.

The call has been reiterated by signatories of the online petition, many of whom are Hong Kong residents who decry that they’re being deprived of their work and homes, and like many of their migrant worker compatriots, are in danger of losing their jobs.
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