By ANDREW FANASIA
WHILE the general public continue to criticise the government over the repatriation plan for the Solomon Islands students in Philippines the government gives more detail for the critics.
Speaking at the press conference on Wednesday Secretary to Prime Minister (SPM) Dr Jimmy Rodgers said that the government and the Oversight Committee do not mind about the criticism as long that there are facts in it.
“But the government will continue to update the public with facts about the ongoing repatriation plan to bring back our students from Philippines,” he said.
The total number of students to be repatriated is 403 to break it down 12 of those are infants without passports or travel documents.
Three of the students lost their passports and 228 of the students are living in Philippines with expired visas which mean they are living illegally there, he said.
“So when you start thinking about why they were not repatriated as expected, Philippines government will not allow 228 students to leave their country even if Solomon Islands Government send the plane.
“Now the government is trying its very best to get exemption for them leave Philippines but if they can’t give exemptions we will have to pay the fines. And the fine is 500 peso per month.
“And some of them have been illegally live in Philippines since 2016,” he added.
Dr Rodgers also explained that in March this year Philippines government imposed a lock-down and then there were five lock-downs between March and end of August 2020.
“And in between the lock-down they have very strict border security which means no flight is allowed to go in. Could we have gone in? The obvious answer is no.
“So why blame the government here,” he explained.
Its understood that Air Niugini traveled twice to Manila and took them nearly six weeks to negotiate but some PNG students were unable to fly out because of the visa issue.
For SI case, Dr Rodgers said that they have exemptions for 67 out of the 228 and the government is working around the clock to get exemption for another 161 students.
“Now if we do not have clearance from the Philippines for those 161 students even if we send the plane they won’t be able to board the plane.
“The other important reason is that the government through the oversight committee sort advices and recommendations from the respective institutions and whether or not, it should repatriate students,” he added.
He further expressed that these are some of the real issues that the COVID-19 Oversight Committee and the Government is struggling with to try and get all our students back.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General (AG) John Muria Jr added that Philippines has its own laws and regulations regarding the global pandemic.
“We cannot just get up and then send our plane to get our students the government has to work according to Philippines jurisdiction.
“The bottom line of this whole issue is our government will repatriate all our students in Philippines but first and for most both government must meet all the regulations with regards to COVID-19 before we can do the repatriation,” Muria told the media.
This paper understands that all the scheduled repatriation remain the same, the government is communicating with the President of the Solomon Islands Students Association in Philippines.
A total of twelve local students have now contracted COVID-19.