Solons prod govt on vaccine passports


LAWMAKERS on Thursday moved to speed up issuance by the Philippine government of internationally accepted Covid-19 vaccine certificates or passports to help migrant workers facing discrimination in certain countries.

A member of the House Committee on Labor and Employment on Thursday urged the national government to fast-track the issuance of World Health Organization-recognized international certificate or card to fully vaccinated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Among the host governments that are reportedly shunning Philippine vaccine certificates—for lack of a unified, fraud-proof format—are Thailand and Hong Kong, where over 200,000 OFWs are based.

ACT-CIS Rep. Rowena Taduran said the Philippine government, through the Consulate in Hong Kong, should discuss thoroughly with the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region the issue concerning the vaccination card of OFWs.

While they are waiting, Taduran said the government should offer help in sustaining the daily needs of the OFWs especially those who came from the provinces.

“It is very unfortunate that the OFWs are having difficulty in returning to their jobs and spending too much money while waiting for their chance to fly and be admitted in Hong Kong,” she added.

“It should be clarified if the international certificate of vaccination issued by the Bureau of Quarantine will be accepted as proof of vaccination of our OFWs bound for Hong Kong,” she said.

The Hong Kong government has classified the Philippines as “high risk” for Covid-19.

“Likewise, our government should fast-track the issuance of this yellow vaccination passport so our OFWs can immediately return to their work in Hong Kong,” Taduran added.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. said the Hong Kong government won’t honor vaccination card issued by local government units, saying “our vaccination cards are not accepted in Hong Kong because they are not connected to a single source. Poor OFWs going to their jobs in Hong Kong even if jabbed.”

But Locsin vowed to formally ask Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to recognize vaccination cards issued in the Philippines.

More refusals

A party-list lawmaker meanwhile, warned that the absence of a credible proof of vaccination for Filipinos traveling overseas might lead to more entry refusals just like what is happening in Hong Kong.

Rep. Ronnie Ong of the AP Party-list said the case of OFWs denied entry in Hong Kong because immigration authorities refused to recognize their locally issued vaccination cards should raise the urgency to have an internationally recognized and credible Covid-19 vaccination passport for all fully-vaccinated Filipinos.

Ong earlier filed House Bill 8280 or the proposed Vaccination Passport Law in December or months before the government started its mass vaccination program, but it has yet to be deliberated upon by the House Committee on Health.

“Had the government been more proactive in creating a national vaccination database and national vaccination card, our embattled OFWs in Hong Kong would have been allowed entry without any problem,” Ong said.

Hong Kong authorities cannot be blamed, he said, for refusing to recognize the vaccination cards presented by the inbound OFWs because there is really no way to verify the authenticity of their documents.

“I really cannot blame the Hong Kong government because they really have to also protect their citizens especially because our country is notorious when it comes to faking government documents. When our RT-PCR results are being faked, what more the vaccination cards? Therefore, it is very important that we have credible proof of vaccination or a vaccination passport because I am sure this will soon be as important as our driver’s license under the new normal,” Ong said.

Ong said that in the absence of a globally recognized vaccination passport,  the government should at least expedite the creation of a national vaccination database which could allow immigration authorities around the world to verify and authenticate the various versions of vaccination cards that are issued to vaccinated Filipinos.

This database should have been put together by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) as soon as the government started its vaccination program, Ong said.

Locsin earlier expressed confidence the DICT could fast-track action in this regard.

Image courtesy of Nonoy Lacza

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