By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte is hopeful that not all Filipino health workers will leave the country for employment abroad amid the battle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The President said he he cannot blame the health workers if they want to seek better compensation abroad but expressed concern about the possible shortage of medical staff in the face of the public health emergency.
“Kung gusto ninyong kayong mga nurse na Pilipino, gusto ninyong magsilbi 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 aired on government television late 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.
Even as the government task force has allowed health workers with existing contracts abroad to leave the country, Duterte admitted that the country would need medical personnel amid the escalating number of infections in the country.
“So ‘yung tayo naman ang task force ganito, huwag kayong umalis lahat either may gusto o wala, kagustuhan mo ayaw mo dahil mangangailangan — there’s no end in sight, anong katapusan nito, wala pa — and our numbers are increasing (Please do not all leave because we will need you. There is no end in sight and our numbers are increasing),” he said.
As of April 13, the country has reported 4,932 cases of coronavirus, including 315 fatalities.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) earlier released a resolution suspending the overseas deployment of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers amid the pandemic, triggering calls for its review.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) however has backed the lifting of the travel restrictions on health workers with existing work contracts abroad. The health workers will be required to sign a declaration about the risks if they travel abroad.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has openly opposed the exit ban on Filipino health workers, saying it violates their constitutional right to travel and contractual right to work.
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 statement may be valid only during ordinary times.
“I’d like to take the opposite view that itong ganito sa ordinaryong — ordinary times, talagang hindi kayo mapigilan at walang makasabi sa inyo umalis kayo o huwag kayong umalis, tanggap kayo, magpirma ka ng kontrata (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 said.
“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.
Duterte recognized though he could not force people to stay since the country has a vibrant democracy. China, on the other hand, commands total obedience from its people since it is a “communist regime,” he added.
“I’m not trying to say that it’s not a democracy. It is a communist regime at it demands total obedience. Hindi ka pwede doon magsabi, “Ah hindi, hindi ganito.” Huli ka (You can’t say no there. You’ll be arrested),” he said.
“Dito hindi ko magawa ‘yan kasi demokrasya, papasok ang human rights. Nandiyan sila (Chel) Diokno, mas marunong sa lahat na (Here, I can’t do that because we are in a democracy. There are human rights advocates. Diokno is there who is more knowledgeable than everyone else),” he said.
Duterte also railed against the United States for recruiting medical workers to address their coronavirus emergency.
He said America has been “causing problems” for the country, insisting that it should rely on its own human resources than recruit from the country’s pool of health workers.
“So ngayon nangangailangan kayo ng nurse, express. Kami naman dito nakakabahan kasi wala kaming pangbigay kasing laki so ang mga nurse natin — eh naintindihan ko ‘yan eh self-preservation ‘yan. So kailangan magtrabaho sila. May trabaho ngayon sa Amerika, eh ‘di nagpupuntahan sila (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),” he said.