Villanueva to DOLE: ‘OFWs are not barter commodities’

Published February 24, 2021, 8:13 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) should not be bartered for vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Senator Joel Villanueva said on Wednesday, February 23.

Sen. Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN/MANILA BULLETIN)

The chairman of the Senate labor committee said that while he does not question the motives of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in negotiating for vaccine supplies, he disagreed with the agency’s move to use Filipino health care workers as a condition.

“I have no quarrel with the personalities, but I disagree with the proposal. OFW deployment is not a barter trade. We simply do not swap people for products,” Villanueva said in a statement.

He said the move “clearly” showed the DOLE’s desperation to find COVID-19 vaccines for the country. 

“Theirs is a ‘kapit sa patalim’ move,” the senator said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III was reported to be asking the governments of United Kingdom and Germany for at least 600,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines in exchange for the deployment of Filipino health workers in their countries.

According to a DOLE official, Bello supposedly offered the two countries an exemption on the 5,000-per-year deployment limit if they will agree to the agency’s requests, which also included the renewal of previous bilateral agreements between the UK and the Philippines.

The vaccines being requested will be given to the OFWs, said the DOLE. Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. supported the DOLE’s conditions.

But Villanueva said the “bigger question” was what led the government to resort to such  negotiation.

“Kung ginawa lang po sana ng IATF ang kanilang tungkulin, hindi sana mapipilitan ang DOLE na  dumiskarte (Had the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease did its job, that DOLE would not be forced to be creative in securing the vaccines),” he said.

“So again, I do not question their motives but their means. They were thrown in that situation because some people dropped the ball,” he said.

Still, Villanueva said he has “very high respect” for Bello. “He’s been very helpful not only to our committee hearings, but his record shows how he walked the extra mile during this pandemic,” he said of the DOLE chief.