Workers, migrants call on PH gov't to review Hong Kong travel ban

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 17 2020 09:15 PM | Updated as of Feb 17 2020 11:39 PM

Photo courtesy of Jenny Sespene and Kaye Tumambing

HONG KONG - Pressures to scrap a Philippine travel ban on Hong Kong amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak continue to generate support with more than 100 Filipino organizations in one of China's special administrative regions petitioning President Rodrigo Duterte for it on Monday.

The appeal was received by Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada, who immediately assured the group he would relay their concerns to Manila. The government's Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Disease will meet Tuesday and tackle the travel ban issue.

"They will review the travel ban tomorrow and take into account all facts and reports necessary to make an informed decision," Tejada told ABS-CBN News.

Representatives of migrants' rights advocates, those from religious groups, and Filipinos permanently residing in Hong Kong handed the petition to the Philippine Consulate General office.

The Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (SHARP) said an estimated 25,000 Filipino workers have been affected by the ban that was imposed on Feb.2. Some Hong Kong residents who were vacationing for the Lunar New Year break were also caught flat-footed.

"We all feel that the travel ban, which was imposed without a warning or consultation, is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us," the petition letter reads.

It said the ban was "not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization."

The group said the Philippine government's response to the travel ban crisis "leaves much to be desired" as the P10,000 compensation from the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration could not cover expenses incurred after being stranded at the airport.

"Moreover, non-OFWs were given 'no help at all' when many of them don't even have houses in the Philippines," the petition said.

"They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong."

Members of Migrante-Hong Kong echoed calls for the review of the travel ban, urging the government to grant exemption to returning migrant workers, students and residents.

The appeal was also conveyed in Manila when a separate Facebook-generated group, "#StrandedPH", consisting of mostly Filipino residents who are stranded in the Philippines, met with OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac and Deputy Administrator Esther Margaux Uson on Monday.

Joms Ortega, one of the administrators of StrandedPh, said that the meeting 'went really well'.

"We're hopeful for good news soon. So pray na lang po tayo. Pero no promises pa rin talaga (So, let's just pray. But still, no promises)," said Ortega in a public post on #StrandedPH.

The group said it hoped the Philippine government would "understand the consequences of the ban to the OFWs," and that they were willing to sign a waiver of obligations for the Philippine government "if anything undesirable happens to us" in their return to work in Hong Kong.