In this Aug. 30, 2019 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte is welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping upon his arrival at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing for the opening ceremony of the FIBA Basketall World Cup 2019.
Presidential Photo/Robertson Niñal Jr.
Pangilinan questions motive behind Taiwan inclusion in COVID-19 travel ban
Franco Luna ( - February 12, 2020 - 7:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan on Wednesday night called on the Department of Health to clarify their rationale in including Taiwan in the temporary travel ban called for by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte initially called for a ban on the Hubei Province of China, where Wuhan—the epicenter of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19—is located.

The travel ban was expanded to include the rest of mainland China and its special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau on the day that a confirmed COVID-19 patient in the country was confirmed dead, the first death due to the virus outside China. 

READ: Duterte extends travel ban to visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau amid nCoV scare

In a press conference on Monday, February 10, the Health department disclosed that the aforementioned ban had also included Taiwan all along and was already "implemented late last week." 

"As far as the health community is concerned, Taiwan is part of China," Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said at a press briefing that day. 

"Ang Taiwan, if you look at the WHO map and the number of cases that they have, Taiwan is included in China. So since we have a travel restriction in China, then Taiwan is included."

READ: Taiwan already included in temporary travel ban — DOH


As a direct result, Taiwan News reported on Tuesday, February 11, that nearly 500 Taiwanese tourists were left stranded after the ban was implemented. 

This was only reported on Tuesday, despite the Health department saying that the country had been turning away Taiwanese travelers since February 7, the day the ban was supposedly implemented for all of mainland China.

The Bureau of Immigration also only released a statement on the night of Monday confirming that they were directed to include Taiwan in the ban.

"We have confirmed with the Department of Justice, which is our mother department, that Taiwan is indeed included in the expanded travel ban," said Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente in the statement.

READ: Bureau of Immigration: Travel ban also covers Taiwan

And this was not the only discrepancy involving the travel ban. 

In a press briefing in Malacañang that took place the same day the ban was disclosed, another Health undersecretary, Gerardo Bayugo, contradicted this and said that the resolution was still being considered by the task force. 

“A resolution will be released from the inter-agency task force for the inclusion of Taiwan in the travel ban, but it’s not yet final. It will still be discussed,” Bayugo said.

'Health, not politics'

Pangilinan pointed out that an estimated 154,000 overseas Filipino workers will undoubtedly be affected by the travel restriction. 

Data from Taiwan's Tourism Board also shows that 454,575 Filipinos visited Taiwan in 2019 while another 73,107 have visited so far in 2019. 

"Is the ban due to the novel coronavirus? Are there health risks posed for Filipinos going to and coming from Taiwan?" the senator asked in a statement

"Averting the spread of the virus and protecting the health of the Filipinos are the only justifiable reasons for the prohibition, not political considerations to China, which counts Taiwan as one of its Special Administrative Regions."

Historically, Duterte has not been shy about his preference for China as an ally. 

RELATED: Philippines is 'the lead in the South China Sea disputes,' Locsin claims

The chief executive, who bared his intent to pursue an "independent foreign policy" in 2016, has been quoted as saying on a visit to China that "[T]here are three of us against the world - China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way.”

A Social Weather Stations survey released in late November suggested that China earned a "bad" net trust of -33 among Filipinos, making them the least trusted country in the archipelago.

In response to the survey results, Malacañang said they believed that Filipinos would eventually “appreciate” China. 

READ: Palace believes Filipinos will 'eventually appreciate' China amid low trust ratings

One China?

A CNBC report dated February 6 quoted Taiwan's foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou as saying that the WHO's exclusion of Taiwan in official meetings was "putting political considerations over people’s health and safety" which she described as "extremely vile."

China has long used the undefined, unilaterally-imposed demarcation line called the nine-dash line—also sometimes called the 10-dash line or 11-dash line—to justify its claim over a large part of the South China Sea. The line has included Taiwan since 2013.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in a 2016 arbitral ruling has said that the nine-dash line has no basis in international law, although Beijing has made it clear that they have no intention of recognizing this ruling. 

"The administration's adherence to the so-called One China Policy should not be above the welfare of our OFWs in Taiwan who stand to lose their job and their only source of income," Pangilinan said in his statement. 

COMMENTARY: Duterte’s deafening silence on Chinese harassment

Many countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, which the World Health Organization is a specialized agency of, regard Taiwan as part of China under Beijing’s “One China” policy, thus denying Taiwan diplomatic relationships and memberships.

Additionally, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines maintains that Taiwan is a "sovereign and independent state" from China.

In a statement released Wednesday, the office denounced the move and urged the administration to revoke Taiwan's inclusion in the ban.

"It is a factual error for the World Health Organization (WHO) to regard Taiwan as a part of PRC. The Philippines should not be misled by WHO’s wrong information on Taiwan," they said.

"No other countries in Asia, except the Philippines, have issued travel ban on Taiwan. We urge the Philippine government to immediately correct its decision on Taiwan and remove Taiwan from the travel ban." — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and Patricia Lourdes Viray

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