By Roy Mabasa
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday said nurses and other health workers with existing work contracts abroad can now leave the country shortly after the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of the Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) reconsidered the travel ban for health workers.
However, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo had earlier said that all IATF recommendations are subject to President Duterte’s approval.
“Done. Nurses, other health workers with existing contracts of work abroad can leave. Future applications frozen until further notice provided all our 450,000+ nurses-exceeding by 250,000 ideal WHO (World Health Organization) ratio of people-to-nurses must be given employment,” Locsin said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said all medical and allied healthcare professionals with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 shall be allowed for deployment abroad.
Before leaving the country, he said the health workers must execute a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved as advised by the Philippine government.
Last week, Locsin protested the decision made by the Department of Labor and Employment through a resolution made by the governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to impose the travel ban on health workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Filipino nurses who were about to leave last week to return to their respective jobs abroad were barred by the Bureau of Immigration from leaving, citing the POEA governing board’s resolution.
“Filipinos NHS (National Health Service) nurses were stopped at NAIA from returning to their contracted jobs in the UK (United Kingdom). This violates the Constitution in 3 ways: right to travel, inviolability of contracts, punitive ex-post-facto resolution,” Locsin said in a tweet last week.
He immediately directed DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay to take up the issue during the IATF meeting which later led to the lifting of the travel ban.
The foreign affairs chief thanked Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and National Security chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. for helping him facilitate the lifting of the ban.
President Duterte said he disagreed with Locsin’s view that the deployment ban on health workers impairs a person’s right to travel and obligation of contracts. He pointed out that Locsin’s view may be valid only during ordinary times.
“I’d like to take the opposite view. In ordinary times, you cannot be stopped. No one can tell you to leave or not to leave, stay and sign a contract),” he stressed.
“Pero alam mo during an emergency ‘yung sa ibang bansa — gaya ng China, ‘pag sinabi ng China para, para. ‘Pag sinabi ng China bukas, bukas (But you know during an emergency, other countries like China, when China says stop, they stop. When China says open, then they open),” he added.
But Duterte recognized he could not force people to stay since the country has a vibrant democracy.
The President is hoping, though that not all Filipino health workers will leave the country as he expressed concern over the possible shortage of medical staff in the face of the public health emergency.
He said he cannot blame the health workers if they want to seek better compensation abroad “Kung gusto ninyong kayong mga nurse na Pilipino, gusto ninyong mag-silbi sa ibang bayan, sa ibang tao, okay lang sa akin (If Filipino nurses want to serve another country, other people, that’s okay with me),” the
President said in his taped public address Monday night.
“Ito lang tandaan mo, pagdating ng panahon kung maghirap kami, hindi natin alam ngayon eh pa-increase nang increase, first wave pa ito (But you must remember that there will be a time that we may suffer. The cases are increasing. It’s just the first wave),” he added.
“Please do not all leave because we will need you. There is no end in sight and our numbers are increasing,” he appealed referring to the coronavirus cases.
Duterte also railed against the United States for recruiting medical workers to address their coronavirus emergency.
The US death toll has hit 23,200– by far the worst-affected country.
He said America has been “causing problems” for the country and should rely on its own human resources instead of recruiting from the country’s pool of health
“Now you need nurses, express. We are worried because we cannot give them the same huge compensation. I understand that’s self-preservation. They need to work, there are jobs in America so they go there),” Duterte said.
“Maski sino na lang, nananawagan sila, basta ‘yung nurse, mga nurse, sige punta kayo sa embassy, i-process nila ang visa one day, kinabukasan lipad ka na (They’re calling anybody as long as they’re nurses, telling them to go to the embassy where their visa is processed in one day, and they fly the next day),” he added.
Limited practice allowed
Meanwhile, the government has allowed the “limited practice” of medical graduates as a last resort to augment healthcare personnel battling the corona-
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the IATF has adopted the “Interim Guidelines for the Granting of Special Authorization for the Limited Practice of Medical Graduates” as presented by the Department of Health (DOH).
“Special authorizations shall only be issued as a last resort,” Nograles said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
“Any authorization shall only be effective for the duration of the State of Public Health Emergency in the Philippines unless earlier withdrawn by the IATF upon recommendation of the DOH,” he added.