February 19 ------ Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lauded the government’s decision Tuesday to lift the travel ban for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) going to Hong Kong and Macau. “The decision of the government to allow Filipinos to return to their work in Hong Kong and Macau is a step in the right direction,” Recto said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “This will save the jobs of thousands of Filipinos who were vacationing in their home country when their government imposed a travel ban to those two places,” he added.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Brigido Dulay announced over Twitter that OFWs returning to Hong Kong and Macau for work shall be exempted from the travel restrictions imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases’ (IATF-EID) amid threats of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). President Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the outbound Filipinos “would have to make a written declaration that they know the risk of going back to their places of work.”
Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders from Hong Kong and Macau could also return to the Philippines, Panelo added. Stranded Filipino workers earlier appealed to the government to lift the travel restrictions imposed for Hong Kong and Macau as they feared losing their jobs in China’s special administrative regions should they fail to return on time. In supporting this appeal, Recto said barring OFWs from returning to their jobs would hurt the Philippine economy more than the impact of the new coronavirus.
“Our compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau form one powerhouse when it comes to sending money to their loved ones back home. About a quarter million of them remitted close to P100 billion from 2018 to 2019,” Recto pointed out. “This economic contribution is so great that the government could either subsidize or shoulder the plane fare of the stranded OFWs, because the cost is a small fraction of their remittances of about one billion pesos every 10 days,” he added. He also believed that Hong Kong, with its “SARS-tested health system,” is more capable of treating patients with COVID-19 than the Philippines.
“[Hong Kong] is in a better position to treat coronavirus patients than our hospitals here, and the HK government has assured us that they will take good care of our people,” he said.