“I was shocked when I learnt that I might be deported,” Taiwan-based Filipino caregiver Elanel Ordidor said in an interview with VICE about her recent conflict with the Philippine government. A Filipino labour official had threatened to deport the 36-year-old from Taiwan after she critisised President Rodrigo Duterte’s coronavirus management in social media posts.
On April 12, Ordidor, also known as Linn Silawan, posted a video on Facebook complaining about the Philippines' harsh lockdown measures, saying: “Filipinos might die, not because of the virus, but because of hunger.” The video has since been taken down.
Philippine labour official Fidel Macauyag took offence at Ordidor’s posts, calling them “nasty and malevolent” and threatening the caregiver with cyber libel charges and deportation. She was also accused of working to "destabilise the government."
Philippine authorities have been cracking down on people critical of the government ever since the coronavirus lockdown started in March. In mid-April, they arrested a writer in Cebu City for allegedly spreading fake news in a satirical post about rising COVID-19 cases. Before that, the Investigation Bureau summoned over a dozen people for social media posts about the pandemic. The strict limits on freedom of expression now seem to go beyond the Philippines’ shores, as seen in Ordidor’s case. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office even coordinated with Ordidor’s broker and employer to have her deported on the basis of "the gravity of her offense under Philippine Law."
But the Taiwanese are not having it.
“Shameful Philippine government! Don't [use] it (deportation) to distort your inability to cope with COVID-19,” a Taiwanese netizen wrote on Facebook on April 25.
The scathing reaction is one of many similar comments on Taiwanese social media. Many also questioned whether Macauyag even has the authority to deport people from Taiwan.
“How could the Philippines impose its law in Taiwan? Our territory? It is unbelievable!” commented a Taiwanese netizen.
In a post on a Taiwanese Facebook page, a netizen wrote: “The news makes me sad and angry. It shows how the Philippine government controls the freedom of expression. The government would rather attack the opponents than focus on controlling the pandemic.”
"You won’t be in trouble criticising President Tsai Ying Wen in Taiwan, why will you be deported for making comments about Duterte?” netizen Sun Chuanping wrote.
“The Taiwan government should protect the migrant worker and deport the Philippine officials for abusing Taiwan’s freedom of expression."
Facebook user Bryan Liang said, "Taiwan has freedom of expression," while Jessie Lin, another netizen, wrote, "She won’t be accused of any crime in Taiwan."
But Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) like Ordidor did not give the same outpouring of support. In fact, many of them are still committed to the Duterte administration and back calls for the caregiver’s deportation.
"We are bothered by the things we read on the news and social media of some people who are not in Taiwan but criticise the deportation of Linn Silawan because of the videos she posted that were against the president and the government," Jovi Pisco wrote. "Our MECO (Manila Economic and Cultural Office) labor office had advised Linn Silawan to stop what she was doing because it caused misinformation and division among Filipinos but she still continued."
Many Filipino netizens echoed Jovi and said that the caregiver should be deported.
"Deport Linn because she bad mouthed the president. She is a shame to OFWs," Facebook user Jeilou Pilegro said.
"Deport her. She needs psychiatric attention," wrote Kate Pinky Romero.
Taiwan-based NGOs have since stepped in to help Ordidor.
“A good government should try to explain, not shut the dissidents' mouths,” Lennon Ying-Dah Wong, Service Center and Shelter for Migrant Worker Director of the Serve the People Association, told VICE.
“We support Ordidor because she has the guts to speak out her dissatisfaction and complaints [about] the government and her president, especially in a society where any critic to the president might be targeted, bullied, insulted, and attacked by civilians or even officials, as what we see [in] her own case.”
The Taiwanese government also backed Ordidor, rejecting the deportation request.
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on April 27 that "no person or institution, in this case, has the right to pressure her, her employer, or broker, nor shall she be deported without consultations held between both governments."
On April 29, Manila’s representative in Taiwan Angelito Banayo apologised to the Taiwanese government over the deportation issue.
“I am so happy and I feel thankful to the Taiwanese government,” Ordidor, who has been living in Taiwan for nearly three years, told VICE. She said that the support gave her confidence to speak up for truth.
The Warsaw Institute regards Taiwan as the only Chinese democracy, saying that it is a prime example of successful socio-political and economic transformation. The right to freedom of expression was instilled after Taiwan’s 38-year-long martial law ended in 1987. Now, Freedom House’s latest study ranks Taiwan second in Asia, just behind Japan, when it comes to freedom including political rights and civil liberties.
Taiwanese citizens have high regard for this right, which is why many came to Ordidor’s defense. This is just the latest example of the Taiwanese government and ordinary citizens fighting for democracy.
Taiwan has been diplomatically isolated by China for decades and, as the world fights the coronavirus, the self-ruled island continues to be locked out of the World Health Organization (WHO). This, despite the fact that it is one of the few places that has successfully managed the pandemic. Despite its close proximity to China, Taiwan only has 429 confirmed cases and six deaths as of writing.
Now, even regular citizens are fighting for recognition from international bodies. On April 14, a crowdfunded “Taiwan can help” ad was published in the New York Times to show the country’s willingness to provide medical assistance to other countries. The ad included a not-so-subtle nod to the conflict with the WHO. It read: “WHO can help? Taiwan.”
"In a time of isolation, we choose solidarity. You are not alone. Taiwan is with you," the ad continued.
The United States, Canada, and Japan have all publicly supported Taiwan’s bid to join the WHO.
“Since more and more countries treated Taiwan as a country, the international society may finally have a consensus that Taiwan is an independent country,” Tom Lee, a commentator wrote in his column.
Experts say Taiwan’s pandemic management success is due in large part to its democratic government. Victor Pu, an independent analyst based in Taiwan, explained how democratic Taiwan outperformed authoritarian China in addressing COVID-19.
“Only when we ensure the free flow of information in a democracy can we construct a healthy society,” he said.
The way Taiwanese citizens and authorities backed Ordidor's right to freedom of expression is just another example of this "free flow of information."
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