Reciprocity
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 6, 2020 - 12:00am

“When some countries opened up, does it mean we open up also under the principle of reciprocity? I’d like to do that. But no, I can’t,” Locsin declared.

In the diplomatic world, the term “reciprocity” is a recognition by one of two countries or institutions of the validity of licenses or privileges granted by the other. In simple laymen’s language, “reciprocity” merely means a mutual exchange of privileges. Publicly known for his colorful and brutally frank manner of speaking, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is still trying very much to master the art of diplomatese.

The principle of “reciprocity” in dealing with foreign governments around the world will have to be defined by the DFA Secretary amid the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. As far as Locsin is concerned, the decision is not his to make but depends upon what the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte. The IATF implements the policy guidelines on lockdowns that President Duterte has imposed to fight off the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.

Locsin specifically lauded Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año who is the co-chairperson of the National Task Force and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr. who is the IATF’s chief implementer. The two retired military generals, he cited, are overseeing the effective implementation of the lockdowns in various parts of the country to slow down the spread of local transmissions of the deadly flu-like virus.

Thus, it gave enough time for the Philippine government to ramp up quarantine and testing facilities to adequately respond to this public health crisis.

While the country is now going into the fourth month of community quarantine in varying degrees of localized lockdown restrictions, the DFA announced last week having received official notices from 26 countries where Filipino travellers are now allowed to go to and enter.

“When some countries opened up, does it mean we open up also under the principle of reciprocity? I’d like to do that. But no, I can’t,” Locsin declared.

“I have to go back to the IATF and ask them. ‘Okay, here’s the list of countries that opened up their borders to us’,” Locsin talking in a make-believe representation with the IATF.

In a virtual news forum in my weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay Webinar last Wednesday, Locsin cited the opening up to the Philippines of 26 countries speaks how well the COVID-19 pandemic is being addressed in the Philippines by President Duterte. “When they do (open their countries to us) that is a testament to the successful work of the IATF, especially of Gen. Año’s longest, strictest lockdown that some psychopaths from the opposition say ‘is a terrible violation of the human rights to live and survive the pandemic.’ But never mind, what can you do?” Locsin pointed out.

Travel restrictions and bans on all foreign travelers have been imposed by almost all countries following the outbreak of the contagion in March. This is to prevent the “imported” transmissions of COVID-19 to their respective countries, like what we did here in our country by temporarily closing all our borders.

“We have to be careful because when they (foreigners) come in, they might spread (COVID-19). Although we can catch them at border controls from testing, with quarantine,” Locsin explained. But hastily adding the caveat: “Assuming there are no holes in our quarantine…you know what I mean.”

So far only “sweeper” flights are allowed, or these are special flights arranged to bring back foreigners stranded in various provinces when the lockdowns were imposed since March 15. The “sweeper” flights were done by our flag carrier, the Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific and other airlines that have available or chartered flights to countries of destinations of these foreign nationals.

Locsin has only high praises for Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat and thanked her for helping the DFA organize and arrange these repatriation of foreign nationals who got caught in the lockdown all over the Philippines. As of July 3, DOT reported a total of 763 foreign nationals assisted to return to their countries of origin.

Locsin praised the efforts of the DOT Secretary in working out the transfer and transporting of stranded foreigners while the DFA coordinated with the concerned foreign embassies in Manila. Likewise, Locsin acknowledged certain cooperative local government executives in assisting the DFA and DOT to safely move out these stranded foreign tourists at least risks of contamination to their respective constituents.

At this point, the DFA chief tried to couch with diplomatese the IATF position that they may not be as generous to allow other countries to come in to the Philippines yet. “Sometimes those countries that have opened up for us, they may not have a successful a program containing the pandemic as we did under Gen. Año. That’s just the way it goes,” Locsin pointed out.

As announced by the DFA, Filipinos who are allowed to leave the country may now enter the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Mexico, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Maldives, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Singapore, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Eswatini, Iran, Lesotho, Mozambique, United States, and Zambia.

The United Kingdom was the latest when they scrapped last Friday their 14-day quarantine rule for all visitor arrivals from 60 countries deemed “lower risk.” The British Embassy in Manila announced the reopening to the public starting today of their Visa Application Centre.

“Do we give automatic reciprocity? I can’t say that because they accept us because our Gen. Año made sure that the pandemic is contained in our country. So it is safe for Filipinos to go there in these countries,” Locsin argued.

The IATF will get the signal from Locsin – as the country’s chief diplomat – what countries deserve “reciprocity” from the Philippines.

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