By Genalyn Kabiling
The country has a “surplus” of health workers so far even as medical personnel with overseas work contracts are allowed to leave the country, according to a Palace official.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo made the argument to support the lifting of the deployment ban on health workers with existing signed contracts.
“It is also argued that there is a shortage of health workers, hence the travel ban for them. The DOH (Department of Health), however, debunked this and has pronounced, citing statistics, that there is in fact a surplus of health workers,” Panelo said in a statement.
“Even assuming that we have a shortage, there is a need for clear statistics on this matter, so that the government can determine which hospitals are in need of more health care workers, and take the appropriate steps,” he added.
The government earlier decided to allow Filipino medical and allied healthcare professionals with overseas contracts as of March 8 to leave the country.
These health workers however must complete a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved in returning to their work abroad, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said as he announced the resolution issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) last Tuesday.
With the latest development, Nograles also said the health department has been directed to facilitate the emergency hiring of additional healthcare workers to assist in the local healthcare system.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) earlier issued a resolution temporarily suspending the deployment of all health care workers in view of the national health emergency.
Panelo recognized that while the POEA resolution on deployment ban on health workers is constitutional, it would not be fair to those with existing work contracts.
He shared the concern raised by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. about the plight of health workers, saying they might be dismissed from employment and sued for damages for breach of contract.
“It would not be fair to deprive them of their livelihood on which their families depend for their subsistence,” he said.
Panelo also rejected arguments that allowing health workers to return to their work places would expose them to health hazards. “The same apprehensive situation obtains here. Our country is also beleaguered by the presence of this pandemic. Remaining here subjects them to the same exposure to the virus,” he said.
He disagreed with the view that the deployment ban on health workers supposedly impaired the right to travel. Exceptions can be made when it is upon lawful order of the court, in the interest of national security, public safety or public health, he pointed out.
He said POEA has invoked the “paramount national interest to ensure the country shall continue to have, sustain the supply, and prepare sufficient health personnel to meet any further contingencies, especially to replace, substitute or reinforce existing workforce currently employed, deployed or utilized locally.”
Also, Panelo said Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 also states that “the government, in pursuit of the national interest or when public welfare so requires, may, at any time, terminate or impose a ban on the deployment of migrant workers.”
On allegations the travel ban impairs the obligations of contracts entered into by health workers, Panelo said the government could impair such contracts “in the exercise of police power, citing national interest, public safety and public health.”
“While the travel ban is constitutional, equity and fairness dictate that the health workers with existing contracts abroad be allowed to fulfill their commitments on their existing contracts,” Panelo said.
He said health workers who have no contracts yet would have to be covered by the deployment ban.
President Duterte earlier said he could not blame health workers if they want to work abroad for better compensation.
Duterte, however, expressed the hope that not all health workers will leave the country during the COVID-19 outbreak. He asked them to stay, saying the country needs their services to stem the tide of the pandemic.