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OFWs react to lifting of travel ban with both relief and anger

18 February 2020

By The SUN

OFWs are asked to sign a health waiver before being allowed to fly to Hong Kong 

Overseas Filipino workers stranded in the Philippines due to the travel ban to Hong Kong, Macau and China imposed on Feb 2 have welcomed the news that they can now return to their employers.

But others, including those belonging to militant organization Migrante Hong Kong, decried the decision to require OFWs heading back to their worksite to submit to what Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Brigido Dulay called “certain procedural formalities.”

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview with Malacanang reporters that this included signing a declaration that they are aware of the risks involved in going to Hong Kong amid the spread of the coronavirus or Covid-19.
But Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Hans Cacdac said there is more that is required of OFWs.

“They are likewise exempted from the travel ban signing of a declaration whereby they will manifest their free will and consent to travel on their own volition obviously. And that they understand the risks of returning to Hong Kong as well as Macau,” Cacdac told GMA News.

He added that those who choose to fly out must also undergo regular health checks.
Migrante leader Eman Villanueva is among those opposed to the idea of a waiver
The restrictions imposed solely on OFWs angered Migrante Hong Kong which said migrants should “never be required to sign waivers nor provide medical certificates or undergo any other additional process.

“The government should not impose additional burdens on stranded migrants. OFWs deserve to obtain clearer information and details from the government regarding the travel ban exemption and migrants should not be obligated by any means to surrender their right to demand and receive government assistance,” said Migrante’s statement.

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The restricted lifting of the travel ban was cheered on social media by most affected workers who had worried about losing their jobs. But others were more cautious especially after learning that there were still no flights available to and from Hong Kong.

There were also no clear guidelines yet from the government on how OFWs can go back to their work.
Major airlines like PAL have yet to accept bookings to HK while guidelines for the lifting are not yet in place
Among the thousands of OFWs who welcomed the news was Gemma Aquino Lauraya, president of the National Organization of Professional Teachers in Hong Kong, who said she went home on Jan 23 as a bonus from her employer.

Lauraya was due to return to Hong Kong on Feb 3 but was overtaken by the travel ban the day before. It was imposed by the government following the death in Manila of a Chinese visitor from Wuhan City, the epicenter of the contagion.

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She said she was lucky because her employer was kind enough to tell her that she could return in March because schools in Hong Kong are closed until then anyway.

Lauraya said she and two others from NOPT went home and got snagged there because of the travel ban, including a former president, Josefina Manjares.

Reports quoting a group of employment agencies deploying workers to Hong Kong said an estimated 25,000 workers were stranded due to the ban.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration as well as workers’ groups in Hong Kong have said several helpers had already been dismissed by their employers who could not wait indefinitely for the lifting of the ban.
There have already been reports of termination because of the travel ban
Maria Sheena Medrano was among those who were fired after being stranded in the Philippines. She had gone home to Ilocos Sur after renewing her contract in January. She failed to return on Feb 5 and was fired a week later by her employer, citing financial problem.

Many workers cheered on hearing about the travel ban, but turned anxious after seeing that there were still no flights to Hong Kong.

Maria Gracia said: “Yes, we already knew that, but most airlines have cancelled their flights. My flight has been cancelled twice, so, it’s useless…It's really stressing and upsetting … (I) won’t be able to attend my son’s graduation.”

“Good news. But still no direct flights from Manila to Macau and vice versa,” another worker commented.

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia that flew daily to Hong Kong and Macau cancelled their flights on Feb 2 and said they would resume flying the route on Feb. 29. They extended this further to Mar 28 when it looked like the ban would last longer than expected.
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