The Philippine government yesterday decided to remove Taiwan from a temporary travel ban, its second reversal this month amid an outbreak of COVID-19 in China and the shadow of Beijing’s influence.
“The [Philippine presidential] palace confirms that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease has resolved to lift the travel restrictions imposed upon Taiwan, effective immediately,” Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement relayed by the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei.
The decision has been agreed “by reason of the strict measures they [Taiwanese officials] are undertaking, as well as the protocols they are implementing to address the COVID-19 [outbreak],” he said after a Philippine Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon.
The task force would also evaluate lifting the travel ban on Macau, he said, adding that any resolution of travel restrictions in connection with COVID-19 would be regularly reviewed.
Manila on Monday added Taiwan to the travel ban, which originally only targeted travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau when it was announced on Feb. 2, citing its “one China” policy.
While diplomatic negotiations were ongoing, Taipei on Wednesday vowed to implement seven to eight countermeasures if the ban was not lifted, while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers called for the cancelation of a visa-waiver program or prohibiting the entry of Philippine migrant workers.
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday reportedly refused to change the policy and was quoted by Panelo as saying that his primary concern is “the health and safety of our countrymen.”
Just like terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, the Philippine government’s travel ban being extended to Taiwan was a policy decision that was not necessarily correct, while the China lobby has become a very powerful force under the Duterte administration, Philippine Senator Panfilo Lacson was quoted as saying by GMA News.
Earlier yesterday, before Manila reversed its decision and in response to requests for comment, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that Taiwan is willing to help Manila contain the disease, but added that Taipei would not condone the ban if it was based on political considerations and would implement corresponding measures.
Photo copied by Hung Chen-hung, Taipei Times
Later yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Manila’s decision, thanking those who had contributed to the positive development.
Taiwan has kept COVID-19 infections well under control, with its disease-control measures and transparency praised by the global community, ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said in a statement.
The ministry reiterated its call to the WHO for public health prevention to be separated from politics, with Ou saying that the global body should correct its improper listing of Taiwan as a part of China in its situation reports, which has led many countries to issue travel bans on Taiwanese.
While many countries have lifted their travel bans on Taiwanese, the ministry is still negotiating with Italy, Bangladesh and Mongolia about correcting their bans.
As of December last year, there were 157,487 Philippine migrant workers in Taiwan, more than 20 percent of the nation’s foreign workforce, Ministry of Labor data showed.
From January to November last year, 455,776 Philippine tourists visited Taiwan, up from 419,105 in 2018, Tourism Bureau data showed.
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