Over 25,000 stranded Filipinos hope to return to Hong Kong amid coronavirus crisis

Bonz Magsambol
Over 25,000 stranded Filipinos hope to return to Hong Kong amid coronavirus crisis
The stranded Filipinos say they are willing to sign a waiver absolving the Philippine government of any liability if they fall ill upon their return to Hong Kong

MANILA, Philippines – Tales of misery continue for more than 25,000 stranded Filipinos who hope to return to Hong Kong for work as the Philippine government remains firm on its ban on travelers coming to and from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

The Philippine government imposed the travel ban on February 2 as the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak worsened worldwide. 

The virus was discovered in the city of Wuhan in China, prompting the lockdown of several provinces, and several countries’ travel ban covering the mainland and its special administrative regions. 

In a unity statement sent to media, a group of Filipino with contracts in Hong Kong appealed to the government to lift the ban as they fear losing their jobs due to their “prolonged absence.” 

The group is composed of foreign domestic workers, skilled workers, and permanent Hong Kong residents. 

“The burden is made heavier by the loans they had to take out to pay for placement fees and other expenses to secure their jobs,” the group said. 

The group added that some Filipino residents also worry about not being able to pay their monthly rent and bills on time. 

“In another category are those who have been raised in Hong Kong and don’t have houses in the Philippines anymore, and are thus forced to pay for accommodation and food [in the Philippines] while waiting for the ban to be lifted,” the group said. 

Edward Borja, 52, who works as a swimming teacher in Hong Kong, said he and his family initially planned to stay in Manila until February 6, but since the ban had been imposed, they could not leave the country. He worries not only about the bills they need to pay in Hong Kong, but he also fears not having an income if they won’t be able to return to Hong Kong by March. 

“Ngayon, nakausap ko ‘yung employer ko. Ibibigay niya raw ang full salary ko ngayong February, pero kapag tumagal pa kami rito hanggang March, no pay no work na ako noon. This is our struggle now. Paano pa ang hirap na dinaranas ng mga domestic helpers natin?” Borja told Rappler.

(My employer told me that she’d give my full salary for February, but if we can’t return to Hong Kong by March, it will be no work no pay. This is our struggle now. The domestic helpers must be having a harder time.)

Joms Ortega, 33, who works as a child play performer in Hong Kong, initiated the Facebook group #StrandedPH, which has now more than 1,000 members. 

Ortega said they sent a letter to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Monday, February 17, appealing to lift the travel ban so they could return to Hong Kong.

“Pag-uusapan na nila (They will talk about it). There will be a meeting this afternoon and tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be a partial decision by then. But, of course, they can’t promise us anything. We hope this will be fixed in the next few days,” said Ortega. 

Better health care system

The Duterte administration’s latest move banning travelers from and to China, Hong Kong, and Macau widens the scope of restrictions that had been put in place aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

On Friday, January 31, Duterte eimposed a ban on travelers from Wuhan City and Hubei province – the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus – as well as other affected regions of China.

But for Borja, the Hong Kong government is prepared for returning workers in their country. He said the health care system in Hong Kong ensures that “we all get excellent medical care at little or no cost to us, while some of us have private medical coverage that comes with our employment.”

“Dito nga sa atin, nagkakaubusan ng masks, pero kasi ‘yung mga companies namin a Hong Kong, binibigyan kami ng masks at ng sanitizers,” said Borja. (Here in the Philippines, there is shortage of face masks, but in Hong Kong, our companies provide us with masks and sanitizers.)

“We don’t worry about our protection. We don’t need to pay anything. The Philippine government could not provide that. I’m not questioning the Department of Health. They’re really good but sa dami ng populasyon ng bansa natin, it’s impossible for them to match that. I feel safer there,” he added. 

The group said they are willing to sign a waiver absolving the Philippine government of any liability if they fall ill upon their return to Hong Kong.

“All we ask is the right to travel back to the city where we live and work,” the group statement read. 

As of Sunday, February 16, the Department of Health said it has probed 498 patients. There is still no recorded local transmission in the country. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.