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Filipinos keep off Central as new social distancing measure takes effect

29 March 2020

By The SUN
Statue Square on a Sunday has never been this near-empty, except during last year's protests

The favorite haunts of Filipino migrant workers in Central were mostly quiet on Sunday, Mar 29, as a new government regulation to limit the number of people gathering in public places to no more than four, took effect.

Few Filipino workers taking their day off were seen in Statue Square, their favorite meet-up place in the financial district, obviously mindful of the new restriction which goes with a $25,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

The same was true on the footbridges, parks and pedestrian walkways surrounding the area, from United Centre in Admiralty, to the HSBC headquarters on Des Voex Road, City Hall and General Post Office in Edinburgh Place, and World Wide House on Connaught Road.
Most of the workers gathered in groups of four or less, in line with the restrictions announced on Friday, Mar 27, and will last for the next 14 days. But a few did not seem to pay heed as they played cards, or haggled with itinerant vendors still plying their wares.

A number of police officers roamed the workers’ favorite haunts, but appeared to be more intent on giving reminders instead of warnings.
Consul Paul Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section, said he expected the authorities to just issue a warning and not arrest anyone for violating the four to a group restriction.

“Siguro naman ho hindi sila ganyan ka istrikto sa unang araw,” he said.
Consul Saret says police won't be so harsh as to arrest anyone of the day the regulation took effect

A police spokesman confirmed this. “In the early days of the implementation of the regulations, the police will remind the public to cooperate with the requirements of the regulations through verbal explanations, exhortations or warnings.

“To prevent the spread of the epidemic, public awareness cooperation is more effective than law enforcement. The police appeal to the public to comply with the new regulations. They must cooperate immediately when facing police enforcement actions and remind everyone around them to cooperate.”
The officer said that when public health is threatened, everyone has to work together to fight the epidemic.

For migrant domestic workers, the message was given more emphasis when the Labour Department issued advisories on two consecutive days, advising them to stay indoors, or if they do go out, to make sure there were no more than four of them in a group.

Dolores Balladares, chairperson of United Filipinos (Migrante) in Hong Kong, said there were even fewer people in the morning in Central, when her group went around to inform fellow workers about the new regulation.
Balladares displays her group's poster reminding migrants about the prohibition against big gatherings

“Marami ang hindi nag day-off ngayon, kasi kinausap ng kanilang mga amo,” she said. “Nasa sa kanila na yun kung papayag sila, pero sinabihan pa rin namin sila na karapatan nila ang mag day off kung gusto nila, o kailangan.”

Balladares said one of her members had asked if she could insist on going out because she needed to send money home, but the veteran leader said she advised her to just ask for another day when she could do this.

Sundan ang Kuwentong Dram Love

Over at St. John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, the surrounding area which normally teems with hawkers and people offering services like manicure and haircut, was unusually  quiet and deserted.

Esther Bangcawayan, a case officer of the Mission for Migrant Workers which has its office in one of the buildings in the area, noted that many workers appeared to have heeded the call to stay at home on their rest day.

“Wala namang problema sa atin iyon, basta huwag lang pagtrabahuhin ng mga amo nila. Para sa kabutihan din naman nila,” said Bangcawayan.
Chater Garden is eerily empty

The few workers who did venture out passed their time sitting on concrete benches making calls, or tinkering with their phones.

“Halos walang tao ngayon, natakot sila sa balitang magmumulta ng $25,000,” said Aling Estrella, who said she had hung out on a covered promenade in Chater Garden for years. “Dati-rati marami sila rito, mga taga-Nueva Vizcaya, kumakain at nagkukuwentuhan habang nagpapahinga,” she said.

But she conceded it was a good way of avoiding the infection.

At Tamar Park in Admiralty, Jena Carrera and a friend sat on the grass enjoying their lunch.

Jena said she was lucky to have employers who still allowed to take her day off, but only cautioned her to stay away from crowds.  
Jen and friend had Tamar Park all to themselves

Only World-Wide Plaza, known as the Filipino business hub in Hong Kong, still drew in the crowds as workers went there to remit money to their families or pick up Filipino goods.

It's business as usual in World-Wide Plaza

Guards at the mall marshaled the flood of people getting in, but, unlike in most other establishments, there was no temperature check for customers.

It’s still early days, but on this day at least, Filipinos showed they were one in ensuring the community’s safety amid the raging pandemic.
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