By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) assured overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) scheduled to leave for Taiwan that it will raise their concerns about the travel restriction imposed by the Philippines in a bid to combat the spread of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, in a TV interview, said the agency is currently addressing the concerns of affected OFWs due to the inclusion of Taiwan in the travel ban.
“We need to talk to various sectors and we are finding ways to raise the concerns of our affected OFWs to the inter-agency task force,” Olalia said in Filipino. He was referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Philippines.
Bracing for possible retaliatory measures
Olalia said POEA is also seriously concerned about the possible “retaliatory measures” of the government of Taiwan against the Philippines over the recent travel restriction.
The Taiwanese government earlier asked the Philippines to “immediately correct its decision” to include the country in the travel ban. Earlier this week, the Department of Health (DOH) officially announced that Taiwan has been included in the temporary travel restriction imposed by the Philippines due to COVID-19 because it is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be part of China. Taiwan argued that the WHO information was “wrong.”
Olalia noted that the travel ban may affect around 6,000 OFWs who are being deployed to Taiwan every month.
Earlier, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) warned of possible reactive and retaliatory measures from Taiwan following the travel restrictions set by the Philippine government, particularly the possible cancellation of visa-free entry for Filipinos.
Hundreds of passengers were reportedly stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals when local carriers including Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia Philippines canceled their flights to Taiwan. This was after the announcement of the Department of Health (DOH) that the country has been included in the list of those covered by the travel ban along with mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Meanwhile, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center also called on POEA to convene the Overseas Land-based Tripartite Council (OLTCC).
Susan Ople, the Center’s head, noted that “there have been conflicting signals over the travel ban to Taiwan” and “to inject geopolitics into what is known as a global health crisis may prove to be both untimely and unwise, considering that the Philippines and Taiwan also have excellent and long-standing labor and trade relations.”