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Travel ban lifted for Filipinos who live, work, study in Hong Kong

18 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Chaos at Manila airport on first day of the travel ban

The Philippine government today lifted its travel ban to Hong Kong for residents, students and migrant workers, subject to a requirement that overseas Filipino workers must sign a “health waiver.”

The Bureau of Immigration says it has begun implementing the partial lifting of the travel ban, however, no guidelines, especially with regards to the document the OFWs are required to sign, have been issued. 

Consul General Raly Tejada says he has yet to receive details of the lifting of the ban for outward travel of exempted Filipinos.

The ban banning all Filipinos from traveling to Hong Kong, Macau and China was imposed on Feb 2 as part of moves to control the spread of the coronavirus, or Novid-19. 

It remains in force for all Filipino tourists flying to and from the three destinations. Likewise for inbound travel by foreigners from the three places, including layovers, to the Philippines. Filipinos are allowed to enter, but must undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.

The ban’s partial lifting was first announced through twitter by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., and confirmed afterwards by Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.

According to Panelo, there will be no restrictions on residents and their family members, but overseas Filipino workers will have to sign a declaration that they understand the risks they face in going to Hong Kong.

The decision to lift the travel restrictions was made during a meeting of the government Inter-agency Task Force that was mandated to review the ban two weeks after the Cabinet held its first meeting on the issue on Feb. 4.

Stranded OFWs will be asked to sign a declaration saying they are aware of the risks in going to HK
Secretary Panelo made his statement after a telephone conversation with Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
“Secretary of Health Duque confirmed that the inter-agency task for emerging infectious disease has decided to lift the travel ban of overseas workers going to Macau and Hong Kong. And according to him, those OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) going back would have to make a written declaration that they know the risk of going back to their places of work,” Panelo said in an interview with reporters at the Palace.

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“Those coming back from Macau and Hong Kong, the families of Filipinos who are there, can come back, and those having permanent resident [visa] holders, as well as the diplomatic corps and families,” he added.
Immigration Commissioner Salvador Morente said the order lifting the ban covers all Filipino nationals who are holders of working visas, student visas, and permanent resident visas both in Hong Kong and Macau.

“They may be now allowed to depart to Hong Kong and Macau,” said Morente. “However, the ban on Filipinos going to both countries as tourists is still in effect,”

ConGen Tejada thanked Filcom members for joining hands in urging for the ban's lifting
Consul General Raly Tejada welcomed the news, and said it was “indeed a reason to celebrate.”
He added, “Adversity brought out the best in the community. Nakita natin ang pagkakaisa ng Filipino community.”
He said he was awaiting the guidelines on the lifting of the travel ban before making an official declaration.
He gave credit to Secretary Locsin who was the most visible proponent of the ban's lifting among Cabinet officials.

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“Special thanks goes to our advocate DFA Secretary Locsin for speaking on behalf of the 240,000 strong Filipino community in Hong Kong,” he said.
Yesterday, Congen Tejada met with Filipino community representatives who presented him a petition addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, calling for the urgent lifting of the ban. Congen Tejada immediately forwarded the petition to the DFA so it could be presented at today’s meeting.
Also yesterday, a group of stranded residents called on Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Manila to relay to him their concerns about the prolonged travel ban, in particular the prospect of losing their jobs.
Cacdac also promised to support their petition during today’s IATF meeting.
At the same time, Migrante International held a well-attended press conference in Quezon City where several stranded Filipinos related their plight. Many were worried about losing their jobs, but others also spoke of being separated from family members.
Filcom leaders presented a petition calling for the ban's lifting on the eve of the IATF's meeting on the issue
Dolores Balladares, chair of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, which spearheaded the Filcom effort in Hong Kong to lobby for the lifting of the ban, also credited all the sectors that joined the campaign.
 “Kung hindi tayo kumilos at nag-antay lang tayo, di natin makakamit ang magandang resulta na ito. Salamat sa lahat,” she said. “Kaya sa anumang laban, ang lesson ay huwag sumuko.”
A joint petition by Filipino community groups in Hong Kong urging for the ban’s lifting was signed by more than 130 organizations, including those made up of OFWs, alumni groups, churches, musicians and residents.
The petitioners said they were confident that their health and well-being would be well looked after in Hong Kong, where they are assured of free medical care in public hospitals and clinics. Having a private medical insurance is just an added bonus.
Both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments have also urged Philippine officials to reconsider the ban, citing the SAR’s well-funded, well-coordinated and transparent mechanism for containing the Covid-19 contagion.
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