MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday stood by the government’s decision to impose a travel ban on Taiwan amid the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as officials claimed that public safety, not politics, was the reason behind the move. ?
Earlier this month, the Philippines prohibited travel to and from China and its administrative regions Macau and Hong Kong as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.?
Last Monday, the health department announced that the ban also covered Taiwan, citing the one-China policy, which regards Taiwan as an “integral part of Chinese territory.”
The move did not sit well with the Taiwanese government, which claimed that the ban was based on “wrong information” since Taiwan is not and has never been part of the People’s Republic of China. ?
Taiwan is reportedly eyeing retaliatory measures against the Philippines, including the possible cancellation of the visa-free entry privilege of Filipinos. ?
But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo insisted that the travel ban was meant to protect Filipinos from the COVID-19. ?
“The President said last night, ‘My primary concern is the health and safety of our countrymen. Until the danger persists then we have to do what is necessary to secure their safety’,” Panelo said at a press briefing.?
“Until the danger exists, the ban stays,” he added. ?
Panelo also claimed that the restriction was connected to the one-China policy. The Palace spokesman said last Wednesday that the policy might have been the reason behind the expanded ban.?
“Perhaps that was the perception of DOH (Department of Health). But I asked the President last night and he said it has nothing to do with that. It’s the safety. He was very emphatic last night. He said the safety of our countrymen transcends borders,” Panelo said. ?
“That’s the basis. We are trying to secure the safety of our countrymen and prevent the spread of the disease,” he added. ?
Asked if the government is studying whether to impose a travel ban on other countries affected by COVID-19, Panelo replied: “All of these are being studied… He said his primary concern is the safety, nothing else.” ?
With regard to the possible cancellation of the Filipinos’ visa-free entry to Taiwan, Panelo said each country has the right to react to any act it perceives as being against its interest.?
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday allayed fears of mass displacement of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwanese firms with the travel ban on Taiwan expected to be lifted in the next days.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he is coordinating with the DOH and had already requested the lifting of the ban for workers departing for Taiwan.
“For those who are affected by the travel ban in Taiwan, we ask for your patience and in a few days, there will be a review. While waiting for the lifting of the ban, we are providing financial assistance,” Bello said in a statement.
Bello said members of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) who are affected by the ban are entitled to receive P10,000 financial assistance.
160,000 jobs at risk
The travel ban on Taiwan brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak has put the jobs of 160,000 Filipinos at risk with the Taiwanese government’s plan to cancel the visa-free status for Filipinos in retaliation for the travel ban.?
Recruitment consultant Manny Geslani said that according to Lito Banayo, chairman of the Manila Cultural and Economic Office (MECO), Taiwan is on the verge of slamming the Philippines with a number of directives which ultimately will have a direct effect on the fate of OFWs in Taiwan and future jobs for Filipino workers.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) has asked the Philippine government to lift the travel ban and vehemently protests being lumped with China in the ban.?
One retaliatory measure may be the removal of the visa-free entry for Filipinos, 500,000 of whom traveled to Taiwan in 2019.?
A source from Taiwan has confided to a former official of the recruiters group operating in Taiwan that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ordered that all Filipinos who have acquired work permits and whose names are listed will not be allowed to go to Taiwan if this “impasse” is not resolved by today.?
Bello expressed optimism that the result of the assessment will be positive, but in the meantime, affected OFWs were requested to wait for the next three to five days. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Rudy Santos
He said OWWA is also offering stranded OFWs accommodation, food and transportation assistance.
According to local recruiters, Taiwanese employers are now threatening vacationing Filipino workers to return immediately or lose their jobs.
Officials of the local recruitment industry claimed that factory owners are also thinking of canceling current job orders and replacing Filipinos with Indonesians and Vietnamese if the travel ban is not lifted immediately.
They said Taipei also reported that vacationing Filipino workers will no longer be allowed entry if their visas expire and their companies will have to re-apply for new entry visas.
According to recruiters, about 3,000 Filipinos are supposed to return to Taiwan prior to the imposition of the travel ban.
Meanwhile, the Blas Ople Policy Center urged the government to discuss the travel bans that were imposed without the corresponding Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) governing board resolutions.
“While the travel bans cover all travelers, a POEA-issued deployment ban makes this policy directive clearer, relevant and enforceable for specific labor markets. In a field with so many players, especially in the private sector here and overseas, the POEA must come up with its own board resolutions, especially since thousands of work contracts are involved,” the Ople Center said.
Under existing rules, the POEA governing board may, after consultation with the DFA, at any time impose or terminate a ban on the deployment of OFWs in the interest of public welfare.
POEA administrator Bernard Olalia told GMA News that some 271 Filipino workers leave for Taiwan daily.?
In the meantime PILMAT, (Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan) will meet today with Bello to appeal the travel ban. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Rudy Santos