By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte is set to meet with Cabinet officials this week to discuss whether it is legal or not to disallow Filipino health workers, particularly doctors and nurses, from going abroad while the country is facing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Duterte made the statement after the Department of Health (DOH) reported that 1,694 health workers from at least 11 facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.
In a late-night public address on Monday (May 4), President Duterte said he has to talk with other Cabinet members again this week, particularly Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, to discuss if the government can stop health workers from leaving the country.
“We’ll have to look into this again. It has to be this week. Maybe two days from now we’ll have to meet again and consult legal, si Secretary Guevarra, whether or not it would be legal for us to just stop the migration of health workers simply because they are being taken in a place where there is so much…” he said, leaving his thought hanging.
“Ang masakit lang sa akin (What pains me) is that now that they need desperately of the help of the manpower of other countries, in a jiffy they are given the necessary travel documents (and) to our disadvantage, really,” he added.
Duterte asked Filipino health workers to not misunderstand him because he was only worried about them having to work in countries with many confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“Please don’t misunderstand me. I am making it clear now. I do not want you to go there and come back in a coffin. That’s my only argument, if you may, because you are Filipinos at mahal ko ang mga buhay ng mga kababayan ko (and I love the lives of my countrymen),” he said.
Over the weekend, Malacañang said the government was doing its best to boost medical manpower in the country and to make sure the Philippines will not suffer from a shortage of health workers as the number of medical frontliners being infected by COVID-19 rises.
“Kaya nga po ini-implement natin ang strict safety protocols para sa health workers natin, nang maagapan ang pagkalat ng sakit sa health workers,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Saturday.
(This is why we are implementing strict safety protocols for our health workers, so we can prevent them from getting infected)
One of the measures that the government has undertaken was the approval of the limited practice of medicine students yet to obtain their license, in the fight against COVID-19.
Roque said President Duterte likewise told Cabinet members in a meeting that even fourth-year medicine students should be prepared in case their services are required to augment the healthcare workforce.
The Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases announced last month that the recruitment of medical graduates will be a “last resort” while the Philippines remains under a state of public health emergency due to COVID-19.
Under Section 12 of The Medical Act, medicine graduates “may be given limited and special authorization by the Secretary of Health to render services during epidemics or national emergencies whenever the services of duly registered physicians are not available.”
Last month, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved the request of the DOH to hire an additional 857 contract-of-service (COS) workers to be deployed to the Lung Center of the Philippines, the Philippine General Hospital, and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center.
The monthly cost for the additional workers will be around P35.823 million, chargeable against the available released allotment for the DOH under the 2020 budget.