By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The government should study the impact of its decision to ban the deployment of health workers to other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Joel Villanueva said on Saturday, April 11.
Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, said he understands the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for barring healthcare professionals from leaving the Philippines in an effort to augment the thinning workforce in hospitals due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“While we believe that under the circumstances, the State can suspend deployment of medical personnel, and the right to travel is not absolute, the government should also carefully study its impact on healthcare workers with existing contracts and who have only temporarily went home for their annual vacation,” he in a text message to the Manila Bulletin.
Villanueva said that should it push through with its order against the exit of medical workers, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), together with the Department of Health, should be ready to take them into the country’s healthcare system.
“Our labor department must track them and make plans for their integration into our healthcare system while the state of emergency prevails, and ensure they are compensated in a commensurate manner,” he said.
He also appealed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to provide assistance to the affected overseas healthcare workers to contact their respective employers “to sort out the issue and ensure that they will still have jobs to return to once the deployment ban is lifted.”
“Otherwise, if there is no pro-active and parallel effort to track them down and encourage them to work in our healthcare system, the government should rethink its policy, and instead allow the exit of those healthcare workers with existing contracts, and the ban should only cover new contracts,” he pointed out.
In a resolution signed last April 2, the POEA governing board said the deployment of the following healthcare workers shall be suspended “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until the COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination countries”:
• Medical doctor/physician
• Molecular biologist
• Clinical analyst
• Respiratory therapist
• Laboratory technician
• X-ray/radiologic technician
• Nursing assistant/nursing aid
• Operator of medical equipment
• Supervisor of health services and personal care
• Repairman of medical-hospital equipment
The order aims to “prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system at the time of the national state of emergency.” The POEA’s move, however, was opposed by some members of the labor and health sectors, as well as the DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who argued that the deployment ban was unconstitutional. Locsin said Saturday that he will fight the ban when he meets with other Cabinet members on Monday, April 13.
Last March 17, President Duterte placed the Philippines under a state of calamity for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Section 4 of the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the President is authorized to “engage temporary Human Resource for Health (HRH) such as medical and allied medical staff to complement or supplement the current health workforce or to man the temporary medical facilities to be established…provided that HRH to be hired on temporary basis shall receive the appropriate compensation and allowances…further, that all HRH serving in the front line during the state of calamity due to COVID-19, shall receive an actual hazard duty pay from the government.”