Taiwan could revoke visa waiver if Philippines doesn't lift travel ban

Taiwan's countermeasures could include ending visa-waiver program or restricting number of Philippine migrant workers

Philippine passport. (Flickr user Wellingtonstravel)

Philippine passport. (Flickr user Wellingtonstravel)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Philippine Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo intends to make a final announcement Friday (Feb. 14) on whether to maintain a ban on Taiwanese traveling to the Philippines — while the Taiwan government prepares countermeasures if the ban remains in place.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Feb. 2 that a travel ban would be imposed on all foreigners who had visited China and its special administrative regions in the previous 14 days. However, on Monday (Feb. 10), Domingo abruptly announced that all visitors from Taiwan would also be subject to the ban, based on the Philippines' "one China" policy.

At a press conference, Domingo clarified that Taiwan was included in the ban based on the WHO map. “As far as the health community is concerned and the WHO is concerned, Taiwan is part of China,” ABC-CBN News quoted him as saying.

This sudden announcement led to complete chaos, as many flights from Taiwan to the Philippines were suddenly canceled and hundreds of Taiwanese passengers found themselves trapped at customs in various Philippine airports. Three major travel agencies stated that nearly 500 Taiwanese tourists were stranded at customs in Cebu, Kalibo, and Manila International Airports.

As the repercussions for Taiwan-Philippines relations are serious, an inter-agency task force has been formed to make a final decision on the travel ban. Domingo was cited by CNA as saying the task force will make a final announcement on Thursday or Friday (Feb. 12 or 13).

Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Chairman Angelito Banayo denied that Domingo's statement was the official position of the Philippine government and that Taiwanese are not, in fact, banned from visiting the country. However, they are required to provide entry and exit documents showing their travel history for the past 21 days upon entry.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Office of the President of the Philippines, and other government departments are in disarray over the matter. There is no clear consensus on the ban, according to CNA.

There are indications the abrupt decision was made by an individual on political grounds, rather than based on the actual Wuhan virus situation in Taiwan. If the ban stays in place, Taiwan could retaliate with seven or eight countermeasures, such as ending the visa-waiver program for Filipino tourists or cutting down on the number of Philippine migrant workers, reported CNA.