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Stranded Filipinos hope HK travel ban will be lifted next week

16 February 2020

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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