PH rep in Taiwan recommends lifting of travel ban

Ronron Calunsod, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2020 05:46 PM | Updated as of Feb 12 2020 05:48 PM

MANILA - The Philippines' representative in Taiwan said Wednesday he has recommended to the national government in Manila to lift the travel ban imposed on the independently governed territory due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Angelito Banayo, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan, said "there were proposals for retaliation against the Philippines" when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen convened a special cabinet meeting Wednesday morning to discuss Manila's travel restriction on Taiwan.

Taiwan protested its inclusion in the temporary travel ban that also cover mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau as precaution against the spread of the COVID-19, asserting it is independent from China.

According to Banayo, Taiwan regards the travel restriction as political in nature and not health-related since it was never included when the Philippines first imposed the ban on mainland China and its two special administrative regions on Feb. 2.

"It cannot also be health-related because no other country in the world, except Bangladesh and the Philippines, have included Taiwan in their travel ban... Pangalawa, bakit ... maski na Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, (at) Singapore na mas marami ang cases ng nCoV kesa sa Taiwan... hindi bina-ban ng Pilipinas?" Banayo told ABS-CBN News by phone from Taipei.

(Second, why are such countries as Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, which have more nCoV cases than Taiwan, not banned by the Philippines?)

Banayo said that when he raised Taiwan's concern to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. by phone on Tuesday evening, he mentioned "the unfairness of the Department of Health by mentioning the 'One-China' policy."

Under the policy, the Philippines recognizes Taiwan as part of China. 

"Dun sila galit na galit sa invocation of the One-China policy, and aside from the fact na lahat nga ng bansa accepted sila (at) tayo lang ang bukod tangi, at saka Bangladesh na wala naman sila halos relasyon dun, ang nagbigay ng travel ban," Banayo said.

(They got very angry over the invocation of the One-China policy, and aside from the fact that all countries accept them, and it's only us and Bangladesh, with which it has almost zero relations, that imposed a travel ban on them.)

Banayo said Taiwan's foreign minister, who he also spoke with on Tuesday evening, prevailed on Tsai's government to "hold in abeyance the retaliatory measures while waiting for the Philippine government's reply." 

"So, ang ano ngayon ng Taiwan is, 'Sige, pagbigyan namin kayo, hintayin muna namin 'yung two days bago kami maggawa ng karampatang aksyon, whether it’s retaliatory or whatever," he said.

(So, Taiwan's position now is, 'Ok, we'll give you a chance, we'll wait for two days before we take any appropriate action, whether it's retaliatory or whatever.)

Banayo said he was promised that relevant Philippine officials would convene a meeting within two days to reassess the travel ban on Taiwan, which the Philippines officially still regards as part of China. He expects to get a feedback on Thursday at the latest.

"We are appealing for them to reconsider this travel ban for the benefit of Filipinos, our countrymen who are 160,000-strong here in Taiwan, aside from the good relations between Taiwan and the Philippines," Banayo said.

Taiwan has not advised him of its possible actions, but Banayo recalls it had already barred Filipino migrant workers from entering there after the previous administration deported suspected Taiwanese criminals to mainland China.

He is also not discounting the possibility that Taiwan might revoke the visa-free privilege it had granted Filipinos, and a slowdown on investments and trade into the Philippines. He notes Taipei is Manila's 7th largest trading partner.

Banayo said that after Manila imposed the travel ban on Feb. 2, his office immediately implemented stricter measures in issuing visas for those traveling to the Philippines.

Banayo said Taiwan only has 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections and that most of the patients are recovering.

More than 94 percent of Filipinos in Taiwan are migrant workers, while the remaining few are those married to Taiwanese.

Declared by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency, the COVID-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has already killed more than 1,100 people and infected over 44,000 others, mostly in China, as of Wednesday.

The international body, however, has not recommended travel restrictions.