-- January 2014 ~ Travel and Immigration 101
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Thursday, January 30, 2014

HK Cancels Visa-Free Travel for Filipino Diplomatic, Official Passport Holders

Hong Kong will suspend visa-free travel for Filipinos holding diplomatic and official passports starting February 5, amid political tensions over the Manila bus hostage crisis.
Regular passport holders are not affected for now. An official passport is issued to government officials and those who hold diplomatic posts abroad while a diplomatic passport is issued to Philippine diplomatic service members, Cabinet officials, service attach├ęs and Filipino delegates to international institutions.

“To visit Hong Kong, holders of these passport will have to apply for a visa beforehand in accordance with normal procedures in the immigration department of Hong Kong or Chinese and consular missions overseas,” Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said in a press briefing.

The new sanction comes after talks over a Philippine apology to relatives of Hong Kong citizens killed in the 2010 fiasco broke down, Leung said. Leung laments that “the Philippine side is still unable to meet the demand of the victims and their families for a formal apology.”

“The victims and their families and the SAR government agree the response is unacceptable,” Leung added, noting that the sanction is just the first phase. Under the erstwhile agreement, holders of official and diplomatic Philippine passports may stay in Hong Kong for 14 days without a visa.

“The sanctions that we have announced are just and justified. We welcome the continuation of dialogue between Hong Kong and the Philippines to bring the matter to a final conclusion,” Leung said further. Prior to the travel sanctions, Hong Kong lawmakers have urged their government to impose limits tighter rules on hiring Filipino workers.

There is also a long-standing warning to Hong Kong citizens looking to travel to the Philippines. Leung has not specified other sanctions it will impose on the Philippines over the tragedy and whether or not this will include economic restrictions.

On August 23, 2010, eight tourists from Hong Kong died after they were hostaged by disgruntled policeman Rolando Mendoza. The Manila bus hostage crisis lasted for 10 hours and was aired live in major news outfits around the world. Separate probes have since been launched by both Hong Kong and Philippine governments, with Hong Kong demanding a formal apology from President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

Recently, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada issued an apology for the bus crisis. Government data show that more than 160,000 Filipinos are now in Hong Kong, most of them workers. Total trade between the two countries meanwhile amounted to some $6.2 million in 2012.

Friday, January 24, 2014

DFA Raises Alert Level for Bangkok

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised yesterday the alert level for Bangkok and neighboring provinces placed under a 60-day state of emergency amid the political unrest there.
From alert level 1 or precautionary phase, the DFA raised it to 2 or restriction phase.

This means Filipinos in Thailand should restrict non-essential movement, avoid public places and prepare for evacuation.

Alert level 2 is issued when there are real threats to the life, security and property of Filipinos arising from internal disturbance or external threat.

The DFA said the situation remains fluid and volatile in Bangkok, particularly in anti-government protest areas, in spite of efforts to maintain a state of normalcy.

The Philippine embassy in Bangkok had advised Filipinos with essential travel plans and those residing in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand to avoid rally sites and large gatherings and refrain from taking part in the protest or other political activities.

Filipinos are also advised to exercise extreme caution and vigilance and monitor developments.

The embassy said it is ready to extend assistance to all Filipinos in Thailand.

Filipinos were also cautioned by the embassy against wearing red or yellow shirts lest they be mistaken for government or anti-government parties.

“Participating and/or showing support in any form to any of the parties is strongly discouraged. For information, the red and yellow colors are closely identified with some of the parties involved,” the embassy said.

Records at the Commission on Filipinos Overseas showed there are 16,303 permanent, temporary and irregular Filipinos in Thailand as of December 2012.

Meanwhile, Malaca├▒ang gave assurance the DFA would investigate alleged abuses by Malaysian authorities against Filipinos working there.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said justice must be served to those who were beaten up and subjected to other forms of harassment in the crackdown in Malaysia.

He said the Philippines is treating foreigners well and it is expected that Filipinos would enjoy the same treatment elsewhere.

Reports said Malaysian authorities began a crackdown on illegal migrant workers, particularly those from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand.

Malaysian Interior Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying that those found without valid documents would be deported within seven days.

Coloma said the Philippines and Malaysia have a long history of friendship and cooperation, adding that Malaysian authorities are expected to pay special attention to the plight of Filipino workers.

He said the DFA should also give details of the alleged harassment and abuses reportedly committed against Filipino workers.

In Kota Kinabalu, architect Florito Rosales said he was among 311 Filipino workers rounded up by Malaysian authorities on Jan. 21.

Radio reporter Florante Rosales said his brother told him that Filipinos were thrown in overcrowded jails, beaten and forced to admit they were illegal workers.

Philippine Airline (PAL) to Add Flights to Japan

Philippine Airlines (PAL) will be offering more flights to Japan as it launches its Haneda-Manila route on March 30, 2014.
PAL said the flights will be offered twice a day, complementing its thrice a day service to Narita.

Haneda will be PAL’s fifth gateway to Japan, following Narita, Fukuoka, Osaka and Nagoya.

PAL, the biggest Philippine operator to and from Japan, currently operates 21 weekly flights to Narita, 5 times a week to Fukuoka, 7 to Nagoya and 7 to Osaka.

"The new service makes PAL the exclusive operator on the Haneda-Manila route. This route forms part of PAL's network expansion aimed at providing our passengers more and better choices,” said PAL president Ramon Ang.

Haneda airport is located around 30 minutes away from the Tokyo metropolis.

PAL also announced that it is upgrading its inflight menu with the introduction of Bento Box meals on all flights to and from Japan. 

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