MANIILA, Philippines – Then chairperson of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei warned on Wednesday, February 12, that Taiwan could cancel visa-free privileges for Filipinos in retaliation for its inclusion in the travel restrictions imposed by the Philippines in relation to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
MECO Chair Angelito Banayo said Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with her Cabinet and ordered that a list of possible retaliatory measures be drafted against the Philippines due to its the travel ban that covers Taiwan, based on Manila’s adherence to a one-China policy.
“Maraming (There are many) possible retaliatory measures…. One possible retaliatory measure is i-cancel ‘yun (they will cancel [visa-free entry for Filipinos]),” Banayo said in an interview with DZMM.
“Posible rin ‘yun ang unang hakbang,” he added. (It could be a first step.)
Taiwan earlier denounced the Duterte administration’s move to include it in temporary travel restrictions, saying the Philippine government had “wrongly included” it in its ban against non-Filipino travelers coming from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
The Philippines belatedly clarified that Taiwan was included in its travel ban since the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it as part of China.
Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, has found itself increasingly caught up in travel restrictions aimed at China, where the outbreak has killed more than 1,100 people and infected over 44,600, as of Wednesday. It likewise maintained it is a “factual error” for the WHO to regard it as part of China.
“The Philippines should not be misled by WHO’s wrong information on Taiwan…. We urge the Philippine government to immediately correct its decision on Taiwan and remove Taiwan from the travel ban,” the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines said in an earlier statement.
Taiwan started implementing a visa-free policy in 2017, allowing Filipinos to enter Taiwan and stay for up to 14 days. It extended the policy until July 2020 as “a display of Taiwan’s amity with the Philippines.”
Duterte to ‘review’ ban
Responding to Taiwan’s protest, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said concerns would be relayed to President Rodrigo Duterte, though he maintained the ban was in place as part of efforts to quell the spread of the coronavirus.
“We will relay to the President the request of certain quarters to reconsider the travel ban to Taiwan,” Panelo told reporters in an interview.
“The reason why we are effecting the travel ban is because we are trying to protect our countrymen from the infected. If there is no infection there, we will give it to the President [to review],” he added.
Taiwan earlier assured the public it has taken “all measures needed” to swiftly contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of Wednesday, Taiwan recorded 18 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The WHO earlier declared the outbreak a global emergency, triggering several countries, including the Philippines, to set travel restrictions largely focused on China. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com