By Leslie Ann Aquino, Merlina Hernando-Malipot, Emmie Abadilla
Hundreds of passengers were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals when local carriers Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific (CEB), and Air Asia Philippines (AirAsia) cancelled flights after the Philippines extended the travel to Taiwan in a bid to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease (2019-nCoV ARD).
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente announced Monday night the expansion of the travel ban to include tourists from Taiwan.
“We have confirmed with the Department of Justice, which is our mother department, that Taiwan is indeed included in the expanded travel ban,” Morente stated.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on Tuesday confirmed that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) off to Taiwan will not be allowed to leave the country as they are covered by the temporary travel ban imposed due to the threat of the 2019-nCoV.
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, in a text message to Manila Bulletin, confirmed that all OFWs to Taiwan “will not be allowed to leave” the country following the recent announcement of the Department of Health (DOH) that Taiwan is covered by the temporary travel ban.
Olalia also said that there are “no exemptions” to the ban “as of the moment.”
The travel ban will affect 180,000 Filipinos working the numerous factories and electronic assembly plants in many parts of Taiwan.
“Included in the number of Filipinos are 30,000 caregivers who are taking care of the elderly in that country,” Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan (PILMAT) President Aida Gerodias said in a statement.
She added that around 6,000 OFWs regularly take their vacation in the country every two weeks and the travel ban will affect their return to the their high-paying jobs.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said OFWs affected by the temporary travel ban to Taiwan will also receive cash assistance from the government.
“If OWWA member, yes,” Bello said in an interview.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had earlier directed the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) to provide P10,000 cash assistance, accommodation, and transportation to OFWs stranded due to the travel ban imposed on China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
The travel ban was imposed by President Duterte as precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV.
While the Philippines may still allow entry to Filipinos and foreigners with permanent resident visas, they will be turned over to the Bureau of Quarantine for assessment, Morente said.
“These restrictions are in the interest of public health and safety,” stressed PAL spokeswoman Cielo Villaluna.
CEB has already cancelled its four flights servicing Manila-Taipei effective February 11, 2020 “until further notice” to support government efforts to manage the risks from coronavirus.
Read more: Cebu Pac, PAL cancel flights to Taipei
AirAsia also released a statement Tuesday, cancelling its flights to Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taiwan “until further notice from the government” and extending the period of credit account or refund for flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao.
Travel restrictions imposed by the Philippine government include barring Filipino nationals from travelling to Taiwan, including the airlines’ flight and cabin crew.
The government also bars the entry of foreign nationals, except Permanent Resident Visa holders who come directly from Taiwan, or have been there within 14 days immediately preceding arrival in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, a Philippine Airlines (PAL) special flight carrying 124 passengers, including some 51 Chinese holders of permanent visa, arrived Monday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 on board PAL Airbus 321.
According to PAL Spokesperson Cielo Villaluna, special flight PR 335 from Xiamen, China with six cabin crew and two pilots landed at 1:16 pm Monday, carrying some 73 overseas Filipino workers stranded in Xiamen by the travel ban, as well as 51 Chinese with permanent visas, including five children.
The aircraft flew to Xiamen at around 7:31 a.m. also on Monday, carrying some 100 Chinese nationals and tourists who had likewise been stranded in the Philippines after the government imposed a ban on travel to and from mainland China and its special administrative regions, as part of anti-coronavirus precautions.
The Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) said on Tuesday that the Taiwan government took offense at the Philippines’ imposition of the temporary travel ban on tourists coming from Taiwan.
MECO Chairman Angelito Tan Banayo said the Taiwan took issue with the travel ban, not because of the 2019-novel coronavirus scare, but because they were grouped with mainland China, and Hong Kong, and Macau which are Special Administrative Regions of China.
PILMAT, a group of licensed recruitment agencies deploying OFWs to Taiwan, opposed the inclusion of Taiwan in the travel ban. (With reports from Jun Ramirez, Minka Klaudia S. Tiangco, and Ariel Fernandez)
Read more: Taiwan offended by PH travel ban – MECO