Fearful of losing their livelihood, OFWs from mainland China flocked to Migrante International’s office on Monday morning, 9 March 2020, to raise their demand to be granted exemption from the travel ban imposed by the Duterte government.
Liberty Torres, a single mother, has been an English teacher in China for 15 years.”I am a single mother and I have ran out of money to pay for our household expenses and other obligations. We hope that we will be granted exemption from this travel ban,” Torres related.
“We’ve been to many government agencies, wrote a letter as instructed by the Immigration, and we’ve also spoken to DOLE but nothing happened. When we went to DOH, nobody from their office faced us. They only talked to us by phone when we went there. Our experience with government agencies is really lamentable. We really hope that our pleas to return back to our jobs will be granted,” Torres added.
Villapon Sarmiento Jr. expressed his worries for his family. “If we will not work, we’ll have nothing to eat. We can’t tell our children to stop going to the university while this travel ban is ongoing. Companies in China can’t resume operations unless they have approval from health authorities. We are now being asked to return to work so I hope that the government will respect our right to get back to our jobs.”
This same sentiment was echoed by Shiela Lerias. A professional singer and musician for 5 years in Sanya, Hainan. She went back to the Philippines in the 3rd of February just to renew her passport but found herself being stranded even after placing herself under self-quarantine for 14 days. Lerias was shocked when her return flight to China was cancelled on March 3.
An online petition was initiated by Reggie Medestomas with over 700 signatories as of last week. He said, “Every OFW is a breadwinner for his or her family. More often, they also provide support for their parents and their other relatives.”
Medestomas also related that they constantly get updates from China. He said, “our colleagues from Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand have already returned to their posts in our company. It is only us Filipinos who have not yet returned.”
According to Villapon and Medestomas, the Chinese government issues health certifications to companies before they can resume operations. Medestomas also showed an infographic map from Expat Focus, an online community of foreign workers and residents in China. The infograph showed cities and provinces in China that have had zero (0) cases in the past few weeks.
Khristian Natividad likewise elaborated about the safety mechanisms being imposed by the Chinese government to address the COVID-19 outbreak. Natividad said that aside from daily medical assessments, the Chinese government has also a method of gradually resuming operations until every safety precautions have already been met.
A letter of apology from the company including travel and health advisory guidelines were also sent to Silva Mingoy and to all her foreign colleagues. “I have bills and household expenditures to pay for. I have been stranded here for more than a month and I am running out of money,” Mingoy said.
Cherrylyn Raposon has been an OFW in China for 17 years. “The future of our children is at stake. Their education is already affected. We are ready to sacrifice for our family but it’s hard for us to see them now experiencing hardships because of this travel ban.”
When asked about the 10 Thousand financial assistance from OWWA, Raposon said, “We felt relieved for the 10 Thousand peso assistance we received from the government but this is not sufficient to address all our needs.”
Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion reiterated the demands of OFWs from Mainland China. “The livelihood of OFWs is at risk. The government should have looked at the impact of the travel ban to our dear OFWs. We have heard how hard it is for OFWs and their families. They are calling for a travel ban exemption for OFWs who are employed outside of Hubei province. They have been deprived of income for more than a month and they are seeking additional financial assistance because of the protracted travel ban period.”
The OFW group also called for higher budget allocations for health services. “The Duterte government needs to ensure the welfare of OFWs in terms of health and job security. Now that travel restrictions have already been imposed by Qatar and Kuwait, it is essential that the budget for public health and medical services be increased instead of getting slashed further as what has been happening under the Duterte government,” Concepcion concluded.
Representatives of different OFW communities from Mainland China have vowed to work together until the Philippine government grants them exemption from the travel ban.