Geopolitics? Palace insists Taiwan travel ban a ‘health’ issue

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2020 03:38 PM

Travelers pass through a screening lane by Philippines' the Bureau of Quarantine as they arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay, City on February 04, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines’ travel ban on Taiwan is purely a “health” issue and has nothing to do with geopolitics, Malacañang said Thursday after authorities received reports of proposals for Taipei to retaliate against the prohibition.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the inclusion of Taiwan in the travel ban due to confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease there, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said as he denied that the decision was because of the Philippines’ “One-China Policy.”

“Sabi ni Presidente kagabi (Last night, the President said), 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 told reporters in Malacañang.

Taiwan is an independently governed territory but the Philippines considers it part of China under the one-China policy.

Panelo’s recent remarks however were in contrast to his statement earlier this week when he explained that Taiwan was included in the travel ban because it is a “part of China.”

“Since there is a ban on China, necessarily, Taiwan, being part of China, is included. And we always follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” Panelo told reporters last Tuesday.

Taipei has urged Manila to lift the travel ban as it noted that some of its people were stranded at airports in the Philippines after the prohibition was announced earlier this week.

While the Philippines understands the reaction of Taiwan to the policy, its government should also recognize Manila’s concern for the health and safety of its people, according to Panelo.

“Each country has the right to react on any act perceived or taken by them as against its own interest. What can we do about it eh tayo rin may sariling interes na inaalagaan—ang interes ng kalusugan at kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan,” he said.

(We also have our own interests—those of the health and safety of our people.)

“We understand where the reaction is coming from but they should also understand why we’re doing it,” he added.

Aside from Taiwan, the Philippines banned travel to China and its territories in a bid to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

So far, the Philippines had 3 confirmed cases, including 1 death, of the new coronavirus strain from China. All cases involved Chinese nationals from Wuhan, where the pathogen was discovered. So far, 408 people have been checked for infection, of which, 238 were confined.

A Philippine inter-agency task force is set to meet on Friday to discuss the possible lifting on the ban based on the spike of new coronavirus cases in Taiwan and its protocol for screening travelers from China, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. 

More than 115,000 Filipinos live and work in Taiwan, mainly in factories and as household helpers.