HK-based Pinoys stranded in Manila appeal 'unfair' travel ban before int'l court

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2020 02:38 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2020 07:03 PM

People wear masks as they walk at a marketplace in downtown following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China, Feb. 4, 2020. Tyrone Siu, Reuters

Health chief says to raise matter with inter-agency task force

MANILA - Filipinos based in Hong Kong who have been stranded in Manila because of a Philippine travel ban amid the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has asked an international court to appeal to Manila that they be allowed to return to the special Chinese administration region.

Joms Ortega, a kindergarten teacher in Hong Kong, said their Facebook group #StrandedPH sent an appeal before the International Court of Justice in the Hague on Thursday.

“Some of our group administrators and moderators... created the letter, and pinaedit sa aming advisers (we asked our advisers to edit),” he told ABS-CBN News.

The group is composed of some 1,000 overseas Filipino workers employed in Hong Kong.

“We sent it sa International Court of Justice para makalat ang information sa (so the information would spread in the) international community. The ban that was imposed was quite unfair,” he said.

#StrandedPH has also written to foreign media about their plight, he said.

He noted that Filipinos in Hong Kong handle a variety of jobs, with their ranks including teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs, designers, pilots, flight attendants, journalists and domestic helpers.

Ortega said the OFWs are willing to sign a waiver should they be allowed to go back to Hong Kong amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Philippines has a standing ban on travel to and from China and its territories Hong Kong and Macau in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, which originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

There have been 53 confirmed cases and one death due to the acute respiratory disease in Hong Kong as of Friday, data from the World Health Organization. Altogether, more than 1,500 people have died and at least 66,000 have been infected by the virus in China.

Other countries around the world have also imposed travel restrictions.

Ortega said the OFWs are willing to take the risk, citing Hong Kong's health care system.

“We are willing to take the risky path because we know we are covered by the health care system in Hong Kong. The HK government has also supported our fight to go back. Covered kami ng HK government, mas maalagaan kami doon (We are covered by the HK government, they can give us better care).”

Ortega said some OFWs, especially domestic helpers, have already been fired by their employers because of the travel ban.

“Since wala sila doon, no work, no pay. Iba terminated na (Since they are not there, no work, no pay. The others have been terminated),” he said.

Long-time Hong Kong resident and community broadcaster Michael Vincent also appealed to the Philippine government to give the OFWs the option to return.

"Ang sa akin lang po bigyan n'yo po ng option ang ating mga kababayan. Option, in the sense na kung gusto n'yo papirmahin n'yo sila ng waiver. Give them the option. Willing po kaming mag-sign ng waiver at kami po ay nagpapasalamat kung ma-consider ito," he said in an interview on DZMM radio Saturday.

(For my part, I hope they give OFWs the option to return... in the sense that they can sign a waiver. We are willing to sign a waiver and would appreciate it if it’s considered.)

Before the coronavirus outbreak, he said, OFWs in Hong Kong have been through several health outbreaks like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), bird flu, and the swine flu. They've also managed through the months-long pro-democracy protests.

“Hindi natin alam kung hanggang kailan po ito,” he said.

(We do not know how long this would last.)

He fears that OFWs would lose their jobs if they do not return soon.

"Hanggang kailan ang mga employer dito magiging patient and understanding sa sitwasyon?" he said.

(Until when are employers going to be patient and understanding of the situation.)

Government to tackle OFW plea

The inter-agency task force managing Philippine response to the COVID-19 outbreak is set to soon tackle the request, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Saturday.

He appealed to the stranded OFWs for a little patience and promised to bring up their request during next week's meeting.

"Pupulungin namin ang interagency task force sa Lunes para talakayin ito at doon ikokonsidera ito malamang 'yung sinabi n'yong papayag kayong pumirma ng waiver na walang sisihan kung sakaling magkaroon kayo ng risk sa Hong Kong kasi po ang Hong Kong napag-alaman na mayroon nang local transmission ng COVID-19," Duque said on DZMM.

(The interagency task force will meet on Monday and we will discuss possible consideration of the request of OFWs to sign a waiver and be allowed to return to Hong Kong, but there should be no blaming in case someone becomes at risk in Hong Kong, which now has local transmission of COVID-19.)

Duque explained that President Rodrigo Duterte had given the task force two weeks to do risk assessments on Hong Kong.

Aside from a waiver from the OFWs, Duque said they would also get their employers' undertaking to ensure their safety.
 
"Pati 'yung inyong employer dapat magbigay din ng undertaking na 'di kayo pababayaan at kayo ay pangangalagaan at ilalayo sa kapahamakan," Duque said.

(We should require an undertaking from your employers that you will be cared for and looked after.)

In a tweet later Saturday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he promised to take a second look at the ban in two weeks.

"Time to allow our domestic workers to return to their employers in Hong Kong. Eagerly awaited. HK has better facilities to contain virus. I promised that in 2 weeks we will reconsider," he said. 

- reports from Bianca Dava and Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News