Filipinos in HK, PH join forces to push for easing of travel ban

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Passengers stranded in NAIA due to the travel ban. Photo by Bing Jabadan

Over 100 Filipino organizations in Hong Kong urged the Philippine government to allow thousands of Filipinos affected by a travel ban – which was ostensibly implemented since Feb.2 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Philippines – to go back to the special administrative region.

The organizations in Hong Kong made the call as a group of overseas Filipino workers, residents and students also reached out to labor officials in Manila to push for the same on Feb.17.

In a statement signed by 134 organizations representing advocates of migrants’ rights, artists, domestic helpers, religious leaders, among others, the Filipinos in Hong Kong said that the travel ban has affected 25,000 Filipinos, putting their jobs and studies in peril and causing unnecessary separation between families.

“For Filipino workers, the inability to return to Hong Kong could mean loss of jobs and consequently, loss of sustenance for their families. For Filipino scholars it could result in their failure to complete academic requirements. For Filipino permanent residents, including business proprietors, it could mean being separated from their families and unable to raise money for their rent and other expenses. All of us are bound to lose a lot because of this ban,” the organizations said in a statement.

A group of Filipinos who could not leave the Philippines due to the travel ban also raised the same plea in a meeting with Overseas Workers Welfare Administration administrator Hans Leo Cacdac on Feb. 17.

“We’re very hopeful for good news soon, so pray na lang po tayo, pero No promises pa rin talaga,” Joms Ortega, a kindergarten teacher in Hong Kong and a member of #StrandedPH group said.

The group earlier sent an appeal to the International Court of Justice. In a letter dated Feb.13, they asked the court to intervene after they alleged that the Philippine government “unfairly and unjustifiably” violated their right to travel and resume their employment in Hong Kong, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

Meanwhile, Migrante International, in a press conference on Feb.17, asked the Philippine government to exempt OFWs, permanent visa holders and students from the ban, as it has raised fears of job termination and has also prevented Filipinos from attending to the urgent needs of their relatives who are waiting for them back in Hong Kong.

“Ang employer ay hindi maghihintay habambuhay,” Terese Aquino, an employee who has lived for 33 years in Hong Kong, said.

“Pag na-terminate tayo, magsisimula tayo sa zero.”

Rowena Lee, a Hong Kong resident, said that she’s worried about her 75-year-old mother, who was left alone in Hong Kong.

“Kalalabas lang niya ng hospital,” she said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a travel ban to mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau following the death of a Chinese national infected with CODIV-19 on Feb.2. The said virus has affected over 70,000 people in 27 countries and territories, with majority of the infections reported in mainland China.

The travel ban was later expanded to cover Taiwan, but government authorities also recalled the said order on Feb.14. The travel ban to Taiwan was lifted days after the Taiwanese government threatened to retaliate by revoking the visa-free entry privilege extended to Filipinos.