People wearing protective masks pray beside their clothes laid out on a table, at a Taoist Baoan temple in Taipei on February 4, 2020. Taiwan has uncovered 10 cases of the new coronavirus so far, including two female Chinese nationals in their 70s who arrived in the country as part of a tour group.
AFP/Sam Yeh
Palace stands by travel ban to Taiwan
Alexis Romero ( - February 13, 2020 - 8:03pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang Thursday stood by the government's decision to ban travel to and from Taiwan and claimed that public safety, not politics, was the reason behind the move.

Earlier this month, the Philippines prohibited travel to and from China and its administrative regions Macau and Hong Kong as a precautionary measure against the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Last Monday, the the health department announced that the ban also covered Taiwan, citing the One-China policy, which regards Taiwan as an "integral part of Chinese territory." The move did not sit well with the Taiwanese government, which claimed that the ban was based on "wrong information" since Taiwan is not and has never been part of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan is reportedly eyeing retaliatory measures against the Philippines, including the possible cancellation of the visa-free entry privilege of Filipinos.

But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo insisted that the travel ban was meant to protect Filipinos from the COVID-19.

"The president said last night (February 12), 'My primarily concern is the health and safety of our countrymen. Until the danger persists then we have to do what is necessary to secure their safety.'" Panelo said in a press briefing.

"Until the danger exists, the ban stays," he added.

Panelo also claimed that the restriction was connected to the One-China policy. The Palace spokesman said last Wednesday that the policy may have been the reason behind the expanded ban.

"Perhaps that (One-China policy) was the perception of DOH (Department of Health). But I asked the president last night and he said it has nothing to do with that. It’s the safety. He was very emphatic last night. He said the safety of our countrymen transcends borders," Panelo said.

"That's the basis. We are trying to secure the safety of our countrymen and prevent the spread of the disease," he added.

Asked whether the government is studying whether to impose a travel ban against other countries affected by COVID-19, Panelo replied: "All of these are being studied...He said his primary concern is the safety (of Filipinos), nothing else."

With regard to the possible cancellation of the Filipinos' visa-free entry to Taiwan, Panelo said each country has the right to react to any act it perceives as against its interest.

"What can we do about? We also have our own interests to protect and that is the health and safety of our countrymen. We understand where the reaction is coming from but they should also understand why we’re doing it," he said. 

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