DOLE clarifies: Nurses aren’t commodities; we don’t trade humans for vaccines

Published February 24, 2021, 3:17 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) clarified Wednesday, Feb. 24 that the agency never planned to “trade” or “barter” Filipino nurses in exchange for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.


“The department would like to correct this misquoted notion…that is being peddled by some quarters. Hindi po intention ng department (It is not the department’s intention) to trade humans or to trade our nurses with vaccines…Hindi po intention kailanman na i-trade o ipagpalit (It was never the intention to trade or exchange),” DOLE Information and Publication Service (IPS) Director Rolly Francia said in a virtual press briefing.

Francia stressed that DOLE doesn’t view Filipino nurses as a “commodity or material for barter”.

On Tuesday, news came out from media outlets (not Manila Bulletin) that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had requested the governments of the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany to provide some 600,000 COVID vaccines to the Philippines in exchange for the deployment there of nurses and healthcare workers.

The figure–600,000–is same as the estimated total of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that have been displaced and repatriated across all industries since the pandemic began last year.

Francia acknowledged that the reports on the “nurses-for-vaccines trade” stemmed from discussions during the previous virtual press briefing Monday, where DOLE-International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) Director Alice Visperas was the guest. “Pero nagkaroon ito ng twist (But they was a twist),” he said, suggesting that remarks from the officials were taken out of context.

He said the UK–apparently in need of Filipino nurses and healthcare workers–had earlier asked that they be exempted from the deployment cap being imposed by the Philippine government on such workers.

“Ang gusto ni Secretary Bello ay tiyaking mabakuhanan muna (What Secretary Bello wants is to ensure that the nurse gets vaccinated) if ever the request for an exemption in the cap would be granted by the President. Ang gusto po natin ay yung ipapadalang mga nurses ay nabakunahan na (What we want is to deploy only the nurses who have been vaccinated) and the vaccines should come from the requesting countries,” Francia explained.

Francia’s guest at the press briefing, Labor Attaché for Milan, Maria Corina Padilla-Buñag, gave her two cents on the issue, saying “We are not asking for any condition or x-deal.”

“Maybe there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding, linawin na ang usapan ng bakuna, hindi po yun ang main na usapan, na usapan ng pagkuha ng bakuna. Ang usapan ay para protektahan ang ating mga healthcare workers. Yun ang ating primary concern. Hindi po natin pinagpapalit ang healthcare workers for vaccines (Let’s clarify that as to the discussion on the vaccines, getting it is not the main objective. The objective is to protect our healthcare workers. That is our primary concern. We are not exchanging the healthcare workers for vaccines),” Buñag said.