March 3 ------ The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has expressed concern over reports that Filipinos are being denied entry by Saudi Arabia due to a temporary travel ban on travelers because of the COVID-19 scare. In a press briefing in Malacañang Monday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez said they were “concerned” about reports of the Saudi government’s actions over the disease. Saudi Arabia has suspended the entry of visitors to the Kingdom performing the Umrah or the pilgrimage to Mecca as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Meñez, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh was closely monitoring the situation following reports that even travelers not covered by Umrah and tourist visa holders were being barred from entering Saudi Arabia. “All these information is being processed by the embassy and they are looking into these reports,” he said. “We hope to clarify all of these reports and be able to inform the public kung ano po talaga ang existing policy ng bansang iyon (what really is their policy),” he added.
Meñez said the DFA will assist those who are affected by the Saudi government’s move to address the threat of COVID-19. “If there are those who are negatively affected, we will also bring those cases to the attention of the Saudi government so that they are better able to implement whatever policy they decide to take,” he said. Earlier, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. was barred from entering Saudi despite having a diplomatic passport and was on an official House trip. “On Thursday, February 27, I was in Dubai and en route to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on an official trip when I was informed by our airline that I would not be allowed to board my connecting flight to Jeddah due to guidelines issued by the Saudi government prohibiting the entry of Filipino nationals possessing tourist visas,” Abante said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard refused entry to some 200 Filipino seafarers after their cruise ship arrived in Manila Sunday. The Filipino crew of the Netherlands-flagged Westerdam Cruise Ship were not allowed to take shore leave when it docked at the Port of Manila for re-provisioning at around 8 a.m. of Sunday. The ship came from Cambodia and was bound for Hawaii, according to the PCG. “Pag na-complete yung delivery, alis na din sila going to Hawaii,” PCG spokesman Commodore Armando Balilo said. He added that the foreign crew members of the ship numbering about 747, were also not allowed to disembark.
In early February, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) further tightened measures amid the increasing COVID-2019 cases by banning the disembarkation of vessel crews while docked at any PPA-controlled ports.