#OccupyCentral: To protest or not to protest? Filipinos in HK divided

Daisy Cl Mandap
#OccupyCentral: To protest or not to protest? Filipinos in HK divided
Should Filipinos join protests? The Philippine Consul General to Hong Kong says OFWs who do so might be put in a 'precarious situation' as they are there on restrictive work visas

HONG KONG – It’s day 3 of #OccupyCentral and the crowds don’t seem to be getting any smaller. Should Filipinos heed the warning of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to stay away from protests?

One Filipino, Danilo Reyes, who lives in Hong Kong and is there for good said he won’t stay away despite the DFA’s warning because he has a stake in the protests.(READ: 185,000 Pinoys in Hong Kong warned about protests

According to Hong Kong laws, anyone found guilty of violating it could be fined a maximum of $5,000 and/or imprisoned for 12 months.

Reyes said on Facebook: “I am a Filipino, and I live and work in Hong Kong. I think of my children’s future growing up in Hong Kong, too. I’m one of the five million voters/permanent residents who will elect a Chief Executive in 2017. You must have issued a notice for those who choose to take part in this protest, too! Those who choose to act, not just to look and observe: what (can) the Consulate do for them?”

Unlike the majority of Filipinos in Hong Kong who have to rely on work visas, Reyes is a permanent resident.

Interviewed on this, Consul General Bernardita Catalla said the advisory was addressed mainly to Filipino migrant workers who rely on restrictive work visas, and not necessarily Filipinos who are permanent residents in Hong Kong.

“We don’t want them (OFWs) to be there because it might put them in a precarious situation,” she said.

Two big events are being celebrated in Hong Kong this week: China’s National Day on October 1, and Chung Yeung Festival, or the day set for ancestor worship, on October 2.

Ahead of the two-day holiday, many other Filipinos appear set to heed the call of the Consulate to gather away from the places identified in the advisory.

Since the protests kicked off, hardly any Filipino has been seen around Chater Road and Garden, their two most favorite meeting places in Hong Kong.

They also seem to be staying away from nearby Worldwide House, where thousands gather especially at the end of each month to send money back home, or treat themselves to clothes and food.

Beijing reportedly warned all foreign consulates in Hong Kong to advise their nationals against joining the demonstrations, following a night of clashes between protesters and police.

The letter, said to have been sent from the Office the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 28, told the consulates to “restrain the behaviors of its consular staffs, and advise its nationals living in Hong Kong to stay away from the sites of assembly and ‘Occupy Central,’ so as to avoid violating the law and affecting their own safety and interests.”

Catalla said, however, that she did not get the letter. She said she decided to issue the advisory, knowing how vulnerable migrant workers are because of their restrictive work visa. They could be immediately deported after being found guilty of an offense.

“That’s because they are here to work, and not engage in activities that are not of concern to them,” she said.

Catalla said this is also true for organizations that tend to meet especially in the Chater Road precinct, which has been identified as the venue for the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign, set to start originally on October 1.

The place has now been taken over by mostly student protesters, who had been massing up in various sites for the past 4 days.

“I think they should also take care of themselves because it (their meeting) could be interpreted as being with Occupy Central,” Catalla said.

But in the end, she said, Filipino residents in Hong Kong are free to decide whether it’s safe for them to take part in the protests.

“It’s their decision. As long as they are safe, they should be able to exercise their right. After all, they also have a stake in this place,” she said.

“It’s just two days away, and hardly anyone has come to remit money,” said Joel Almeda, Banco de Oro’s remittance head for Asia and Pacific. “It could mean a big drop in  revenue for most shops here if the trend continues during the two holidays.”

But at least one community leader is unfazed by Beijing’s dire warning.

Bishop Gerry Vallo, whose Jesus the Living God Church is set to hold its anniversary celebration on Garden Road on October 2, has not been swayed into asking for another venue.

“We will pray for Hong Kong, for both the government and the protesters,” he said. – Rappler.com

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