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Stranded Filipinos begin returning to Hong Kong

20 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Temperature check at Manila airport for Filipino travelers

Relief has replaced 19 days of anguish and frustration for many Filipinos stranded in the Philippines, as they began flying back to Hong Kong on Feb. 19, a day after the Manila government partially lifted a travel ban to allow them to return to their work and homes.

Although the partial lifting of the ban was supposed to take effect immediately, many opted to wait for at least another day before booking their flights because of a lack of clear guidelines from authorities.

The biggest concern was over the waiver or declaration that overseas Filipino workers were supposed to make before being allowed to fly back to Hong Kong. Confusion grew when some netizens said the declaration was supposed to be in legal form, and notarized.

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Another concern was whether all Hong Kong-bound passengers were meant to show either a medical clearance or a barangay certificate before being allowed to board, as other worried travelers said they had been told.

In the end, the qualms were all for naught as the passengers who braved flying out at the first opportunity reported sailing though the check-in and immigration control.

Among the first to post about a hassle-free flight out of Manila was Jennifer Silvano-Briones, a teacher and business proprietor who had agonized with her OFW-aunt who had been stuck in Pampanga for nearly a month.

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“There were no issues upon check-in and going through immigration. Everything was smooth sailing (as we expected it to be),” said Briones in an online post.

“There was also no requirement for a notarized declaration. Just make sure that all the blanks are completed, (and) affixed with their signature.”

OFWs are made to sign this declaration saying they voluntarily put  themselves of potential risk to Covid-19

She accompanied her post with a copy of the declaration form, which in part requires OFWs to subject themselves to “prescribed health checks by concerned authorities” in the Philippines and their place of work abroad.

The form that the OFW is made to sign also carries the declaration “that I am informed and made aware by government authorities that I am putting myself at potential risk of exposure to CoVid-19 by proceeding to_____ (country or territory).”

Surprisingly, non-OFW residents and dependents are not required to sign the same declaration, even if they remain Filipino citizens entitled to the same protection by their government, and are given the same health protection in Hong Kong as migrant workers.

But for Briones, signing the risk declaration was a small price to pay for her aunt’s seamless return to Hong Kong. They both had waited for a tense two weeks since her aunt was supposed to fly back, after spending the Chinese New Year break in their hometown of Capas, Tarlac.

Because of the travel ban on Filipinos departing for Hong Kong, China and Macau, even Briones’ husband was stranded in Manila, so she was left all by herself looking after their four children – aged 13, 6, 3 and 1 – while running their trading business.

Thus, when news got out that the ban on Filipinos flying to Hong Kong had been lifted, Briones lost no time booking a one-way Cathay Pacific ticket for her aunt, even at the steep price of $1,200. She was to learn later that the price had nearly doubled by the day’s end because of the high demand.

Cathay has been on limited flights to and from Manila since the ban was imposed on Feb. 2, while Hong Kong Airlines flies once a day. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific which used to fly at least thrice daily, have yet to resume their flights.

Jennifer with husband  Marc Briones and their 4 children she was left to look after while working

Once her household has settled back to its normal routine and her husband has returned to Hong Kong, Briones says she and her children might take advantage of the prolonged school holiday and fly to the Philippines for a vacation. This time, at least, they won’t have reason to fear that they’d be stuck there indefinitely.

But for others who also want to go home, especially OFWs who have been looking forward to attending their children’s graduation in March, the 14-day self-quarantine that remains in force for Filipinos flying in from Hong Kong, is a big cause for concern.

Nearly all have been granted home leaves that will not be long enough for them to comply with the quarantine period. Others are also worried that overzealous local officials might force them to stay at home to observe self-quarantine.

Asked one in the Facebook page of Domestic Workers Corner, “Sa sitwasyon po natin ngayon tama po bang umuwi tayo sa graduation ng mga anak natin. Wala pa po akong ticket. Magsabi lang daw ako sa amok o ipa-book nila. Isa lang po ang anak ko. Grade 12 po siya. Naguguluhan po ako kasi nagtatanong na amo ko if uuwi pa ako.”

Another replied that she also has one child whose graduation is coming up, but has decided not to push ahead with her plan to go home. Asked why, she said: “Uuwi tapos may home quarantine. Hindi rin ako makaka-attend, useless. Tapos baka habang nasa vacation ka baka biglang mag travel na naman.”

Because of a lack of clear guidelines, the quarantine requirement remains a big cause for concern for all Filipinos traveling to the Philippines. Many of those who had flown to Manila have reported not getting any calls or visits from health officials while some of those who went on to provinces say their barangay officials had been monitoring if they were taking daily temperature checks.

Cebu remains a big trouble spot for those who fly home from Hong Kong, as authorities there require all non-residents to stay in a sanitarium for the entire two weeks of quarantine.

One thing is for sure: they will not be allowed to fly out again until after they have remained in the Philippines for the mandatory 14-day period.
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