Cimatu heads to the Middle East as forced evacuation of OFWs begins

Marje Pelayo   •   January 8, 2020   •   323

MANILA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is leaving for the Middle East on Thursday (January 9) to oversee the immediate repatriation of Filipinos there amid the escalating tension between the United States and Iran that is affecting all other Gulf states.

President Rodrigo Duterte reinstated Cimatu as the Philippine Special Envoy to the Middle East, his position under the Arroyo administration, being the most experienced when it comes to conflicts in the Gulf region.

In response to his recommendation, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has raised crisis alert level 4 in Iraq which orders mandatory repatriation of all Filipinos living and working there.

Iraq holds a number of US military bases which are potential targets by Iranian retaliation following the death of Iran’s top military general Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike launched by the US.

“Pipilitin namin lalo na sa Iraq. Nagawa na namin ito kasi ayaw talaga nilang umalis. Hanggang sa ma-convince namin, (We will force them especially those in Iraq. We did this in the past because some Filipinos really refused to leave. (We will force them) until they are convinced,)” Cimatu said.

“(They assume, things are still okay.) They don’t know yet. This is a forced evacuation. We have to forced them really,” he added.

In a press briefing Wednesday (January 8), Cimatu confirmed that a total of 1,592 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) volunteered for repatriation and are set to leave Iraq as soon as they are cleared to go.

They will be moved out of Baghdad to Jordan and from there, they will be transferred to Dubai where they can board their flights to the Philippines.

Cimatu is confident that the process of repatriation will succeed for the safe evacuation of Filipinos, especially those who will move by land.

They will make sure to put up Philippine flags for identification.

Cimatu said Dubai will be repatriation’s central logistic base since there are direct flights from Dubai to the Philippines.

From the Philippines, Cimatu will fly to Doha, Qatar before he attempts entry to Iraq to facilitate the evacuation of Filipinos there.

One concern, Cimatu said, is the situation of Filipinos who are married to Iranian nationals.

Cimatu said they are ready to assist Philippine passport holders but their Iranian spouses may only leave if their government allows them to.

The Philippines also has an existing ban of workers to Lebanon and repatriation has been ongoing since the start of the civil unrest there.

Secretary Cimatu assured that all Philippine posts in different gulf states have contingency plans in place in case alert level 4 is raised in their areas of jurisdiction. MNP (with details from Rey Pelayo)

DFA: Filipino workers can now return to Hong Kong, Macau despite coronavirus travel ban

Robie de Guzman   •   February 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos working in Macau and Hong Kong can now return to their jobs despite the travel ban being implemented on China and its territories due to the threat of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

In a Twitter post, DFA Undersecretary Brigido “Dodo” Dulay announced that Filipino migrants returning for work in Hong Kong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban.

However, Dulay said they will be subjected to “certain procedural formalities.”

“OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) returning for work in Hong Kong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban by the IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) subject to certain procedural formalities,” he said.

Hundreds of Filipino workers bound for Hong Kong and Macau were left stranded in the Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte on February 2 imposed travel restrictions on China and its territories hit with the deadly virus.

Stranded migrant workers were offered P10,000 cash assistance, and provided with dormitories and food while they await the lifting of the travel ban.

Groups of OFWs have earlier appealed to the government to let them return to China and its territories in fear of losing their jobs.

PH starts repatriation process; Filipinos with symptoms of nCoV will stay in China – DFA

Marje Pelayo   •   February 7, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Repatriation of overseas Filipinos in China is underway following the arrival of the team from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Wuhan City, China who will work on the repatriation process.

Those who availed for repatriation will board a chartered flight from Hubei province in China to Clark International Airport in Pampanga expectedly on Saturday (February 8).

According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, they will stay at the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City in Tarlac, the site designated as quarantine area for the repatriates as offered by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

“We convey our appreciation to the BCDA for coming forward to offer their facility,” Duque explained.

“(Number one,) it’s much more strategically located. Number two, the facilities are more complete. The ambiance is very nice. It’s well lit. It’s open space and so the rooms are with almost complete amenities with refrigerators, television. Individualized toilets which is very, very good unlike in Fort Magsaysay wherein they will have to share the toilets,” he said further.

The DFA revealed, however, that China has agreed with the Philippines on certain health protocols before allowing a repatriate to board on the chartered flight.

Anyone who would show symptoms or signs of novel coronavirus will not be allowed to leave.

They will stay in a Chinese Hospital for treatment.

“As they are required by the Chinese Health Commission, they are required to undergo another check before they board the plane,” clarified DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay.

“If they are found to be with a fever or any symptom of the nCoV, they will be taken by Chinese authorities (and bring them) to their hospitals, facilities for treatment and they will not be boarded,” he added.

So far, there are 45 repatriates or volunteer returnees scheduled to fly back to the Philipppines.

The DFA emphasized that the repatriation is not only a decision made by the Philippine government but it is also in coordination with Chinese authorities in consideration with China’s Immigration Laws.

Nonetheless, the DFA assured that the Chinese government is cooperating with the processing of the Filipino repatriates’ exit permits prior to their homecoming.

“We can receive applications now but so far we have not gotten any more than the 45,” Dulay said.

“So we’re waiting for any Filipino who want to come home from Wuhan. I just need to make sure it is in Hubei in Wuhan because that’s the area on lockdown can come home,” he added.

Medical staff, two doctors and three nurses, will be provided on board the chartered flight to assess the passengers.

“The crew won’t get off the plane. The passengers will board, and then the plane will come back here right away,” explained Health Spokesperson Eric Domingo.

“Of course, (they will be) in isolation and everybody will be wearing protective gear. They will ride a bus,” Domingo added of the process.

The medical staff will come from five hospitals just near the New Clark City namely:
-Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center
-Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga
-Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center in Cabanatuan City
-Talavera General Hospital in Nueva Ecija
-Mental Wellness and General Hospital in Mariveles, Bataan

Meanwhile, relatives will not be allowed for a welcome party neither they are allowed to visit the repatriates at New Clark City.

However, they will be provided with means for online communication.

The New Clark City has already been placed on lockdown in preparation for the arrival of the repatriates. MNP (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

Chinese Embassy to send aircraft for stranded return-passengers to China –BI

Maris Federez   •   February 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration (BI) reported that around 300 Chinese nationals are now stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte ordered a travel ban to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao due to the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (nCov ARD).

Chinese passengers who are stranded at Terminal 1 after their flights were canceled due to the government-imposed travel ban await the chance to get a rebooking.

Hongli Luo who is traveling with her husband and two children back to Shanghai was getting emotional while trying to book a return flight.

“I’m with my two kids and husband. It’s very difficult here. Our flight was canceled. We really want to go back home,” she said.

As an assistance to the stranded Chinese nationals, the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Incorporated sent boxes of bottled water and biscuits for the stranded passengers.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the Chinese Embassy will be sending aircraft to pick up the stranded Chinese passengers back to China.

“Our office is coordinating with the Chinese embassy, and they have pledged to send their aircraft to fetch their citizens who are stranded in the country and maybe today or in the next few days we’ll see the details of these flights the Chinese embassy is arranging,” Sandoval said.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said there is ready assistance to be provided to the stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFW) at the NAIA who are affected by the travel ban to China.

“Ready naman ang DOLE lalong-lalo na ang OWWA na magbigay ng financial assistance sa mga inabutan ng ban. P10,000 ‘yan. They can be provided with temporary shelter dun sa halfway house ng OWWA,” Bello said.

DOLE advised the OFWs affected by the travel ban to China to visit the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) headquarters in Pasay City to avail of the said government assistance. —(from the report of Harlene Delgado) /mbmf

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