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Scrap the travel ban

08 March 2020


By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

It has been nearly a month since the Philippine government slapped an ill-conceived and oppressive travel ban to and from Hong Kong. Although it has been partially lifted to allow stranded OFWs and HK residents to return to their homes and jobs, the ban continues to make life miserable for many, especially our migrant workers.

A case in point is the 14-day requirement for all Filipinos to stay in the Philippines for self-quarantine. Without adequate health personnel and facilities to enforce an honest-to-goodness check on every Filipino who has arrived since Feb. 2 when the ban was imposed, this self-quarantine has meant absolutely nothing. And yet it remains, and continues to worry many OFWs planning on taking a home leave soon.

Compounding the problem is the lack of clear guidelines from the government, which leaves the public to rely solely on the direct testimonies of those who have gone home from the time the ban was imposed. But as is often the case in such situations, the story could vary from person to person, and all because enforcers are not themselves sure of what is expected of them.

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Our Consulate, which should be explaining the government’s actions, has been left without much to base their statements on, either. Thus, it has refrained from explaining how the so-called self-quarantine, Philippine-style, works.

Like everybody else, the country’s top representatives in Hong Kong know that the quarantine should last for 14 days. But how this period is supposed to be determined, or whether any exemptions could be given in emergency cases, is still anybody’s guess.

Mainly from direct testimonies, one learns that new arrivals are able to leave their houses from day one, and mingle as they wish. Most don’t find the need to keep a daily temperature check as was told them on arrival at the airport because nobody checks on them.

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But this is how it should be, considering that Hong Kong’s rate of infection has remained steady and comparatively low, and the government has maintained a very transparent and efficient system of managing the contagion.

Still, the quarantine requirement is there, ready to be used by zealots like Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia who has forcibly detained arriving passengers from the banned areas, but only if they’re not local residents. Those from Cebu were allowed to quarantine at home. Now, what could possibly justify such a crazy and highly irregular move?

Because of such paranoia, one OFW mother who lived in nearby Bohol was not able to rush to the bedside of her dengue-stricken daughter, the only reason why she decided to go home. With her on the plane from HK were two fellow OFWs who were also prevented from going home, and attending the funeral of a family member.


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The partial lifting of the ban sparked the hope of many OFWs that they could now pursue plans of going home, mostly to attend their children’s graduation. But the overwhelming concern now is that they are allowed by their employers only a few days’ leave, which means they cannot complete the 14-day requirement for the mock quarantine.

It makes one feel bad to tell them that they must remain in the Philippines for two weeks, otherwise, they can’t leave. Worse is having to deal with the question of whether they can be granted exemption because all they want is a quick exit to attend a family member’s funeral.

The answer is inevitably a no. Not while the oppressive ban remains in place.

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Another cause for concern is the dearth of flights from Manila to Hong Kong, which has driven up the price of a return air fare, further adding to the distress of stranded passengers. Our two local airlines have been routinely blamed for this, as they have stuck to their announcement of resuming flights only on Mar 28 at the earliest.

It turns out, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific can’t resume flights because their all-Filipino crew will be decimated after just one day of flying because of the quarantine, and them not being in the list of Filipinos allowed to fly out. No amount of explanation or appeal to the government appears to have worked, to the detriment not just of the airlines, but also their passengers.

But the worst thing to have emerged from this haphazardly crafted travel ban is the requirement that OFWs flying to Hong Kong must sign a declaration or waiver indicating that they chose to leave while knowing the risks involved in flying to Covid-infested HK. Non-OFWs are spared the humiliation, but why?

Why make hardworking Filipinos who make up the backbone of our economy execute this utterly useless and demeaning declaration? As Filipinos, aren’t we all entitled to protection - however little it may mean under this dispensation- from our government?

To add salt to the wound, the bright boys who crafted this useless piece of paper made it a notarial document, so wolves began preying on frazzled OFWs again, making them pay for the form and its notarization - when it’s supposed to be free, and could be accomplished right at the airport before they leave.

Now comes another indication that Hongkongers have been given the short end of the stick in the government’s frantic but belated effort to cobble up a containment policy after the death in Manila on Feb 2 of a Chinese man from Wuhan.

With South Korea reeling from a rapidly accelerating rate of cases – more than a 1,000 now after less than a week – the Philippine government has decided to impose travel restrictions. Filipino tourists are no longer allowed to fly to the virus-plagued country, but residents and OFWs remain free to come and go as they want.

Flying in, the ban was imposed only on those coming from South Korea’s worst infested region, as if there is no way for them to just simply move to another place, and fly from there to the Philippines.

Most unfair of all to Hong Kong travelers is that there is no quarantine being imposed on anyone arriving from the country now seen as the new epicenter of the contagion.

If our government cannot apply our laws uniformly, it should stop hanging on to the vestiges of a ban that now looks more like it was put in place so as not to isolate China, which has become a virtual no-man’s land since the new global epidemic was traced to one of its key cities.

Hong Kong does not deserve to be isolated and its Filipino residents used as pawns in this political game. The oppressive ban must be chucked out in full. Now.
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