Envoy rejects OFW ban to Hong Kong as protests rage

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2019 10:30 AM | Updated as of Nov 13 2019 11:21 AM

Anti-government protesters take cover during a standoff with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China Nov. 12, 2019. Tyrone Siu, Reuters

Filipinos in Hong Kong remain safe and their deployment there should continue despite intense battles between pro-democracy protesters and riot police that saw some of the most violent scenes in more than 5 months of unrest, a Philippine diplomat said Wednesday. 

Pitched battles saw bricks being thrown on the streets of the Central business district and fires lit in shopping malls while tear gas, water canon and rubber bullets were used against protesters who responded with bricks and petrol bombs. 

Clashes also raged well into the night at the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus, despite faculty and staff trying to mediate, with flames lighting up the night sky and dense clouds of acrid smoke. 

"Ang mga Pilipino rito ay nasa ligtas na kalagayan po... Nasa bahay lamang po sila sa ngayon, medyo nagtitiis po at hindi nakakalabas," Consul General Rally Tejada told radio DZMM. 

(Filipinos here are safe. They're inside their houses, they can't go out.) 

The Embassy has not received any report of Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the protests. 

"Sa amin pong palagay, hindi naman kailangan itigil ang pagpapapunta ng mga nagtatrabaho dito," he added. 

(We think the deployment of workers here should not be stopped.) 

Hong Kong is home to some 230,000 Filipinos, most of whom are domestic workers, who earn a minimum of HK$4,630 (about P30,000) a month and must live with their employers in the city's notoriously small flats. 

OFWs are "generally okay" in Hong Kong and are monitoring protest areas to avoid through their Facebook groups, said United Filipinos in Hong Kong chairperson Dolores Balladares-Pelaez. 

Filipinos, however, had to shorten their weekend hangouts with friends to get home early because public transport became "unreliable" due to protests, she said. 

"Huwag masyadong mag-alala, ayos naman kami dito," Pelaez said, addressing the loved ones of OFWs. 

(Don't worry too much, we're okay here.) 

An OFW was temporarily detained in August after authorities mistook him for a protester. Another Filipino earlier this month fainted after inhaling tear gas used to dispel activists. 

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Protesters, fueled by Beijing's tightening control over the city, are demanding the right to freely elect their leaders, as well as an independent inquiry into what they see as police brutality.

An anti-government protester walks past a burning vehicle during a protest in Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong, China on November 11, 2019. Tyrone Siu, Reuters

After months of largely confining their most disruptive protests to the weekends, protesters have been pushing new tactics targeting the working week.
 
On Monday, Hong Kong police shot a protester and a man was set on fire. 

Road junctions across the city on Wednesday were littered with debris and objects placed by protesters as they heeded overnight calls put out on messaging forums to hit their local neighborhoods in a bid to keep the police stretched and distracted from the Chinese University campus.

In the district of Mongkok, one of the most regular flashpoint neighborhoods in recent months, barricades made from debris and bamboo scaffolding could be seen for hundreds of meters, choking one of the city's main arteries. Pockets of protesters remained out and one man was beaten for taking photos of them.

In many neighborhoods, main roads were devoid of traffic, trams and buses and locals formed long queues for taxis and buses. 

"Hong Kong's rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse," police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung told a press conference on Tuesday as he defended the force against seething public anger.

China has steadfastly refused to offer any concessions and has instead warned of even tougher security measures. With a report from Agence France-Presse