Sunday, April 12, 2020

DFA chief hits deployment ban on PH health workers

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says the ban violates the right to travel and the sanctity of contracts, and applies a punishment not previously imposed

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Saturday said he would fight an order by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) temporarily suspending the deployment of Filipino health care workers abroad, denouncing the move as an “abomination.”

“Filipino NHS nurses were stopped at NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) from returning to their contracted jobs in the UK. This violates the Constitution in 3 ways: right to travel, inviolability of contracts, punitive ex-post facto resolution,” Locsin, a lawyer, said on Twitter.

The NHS, or the National Health Service, is the publicly-funded healthcare system in the United Kingdom.

The POEA, which regulates the deployment of overseas Filipino workers, issued the order on April 2 but only made it public on Friday.

The aim is “to prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system,” according to the resolution posted on Twitter by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay.

The ban will remain in place until the Philippines ends its state of emergency and countries that would hire the medical personnel lift their coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

The government has also suspended negotiations for bilateral labor agreements covering government-to-government deployment of health workers.

There was no immediate comment from the POEA or the Department of Labor and Employment.

UK envoy airs call

Many people aired their complaints to Locsin on social media, saying that doctors, nurses, other hospital workers and medical professionals leaving for aboard, including those returning to their jobs after a vacation here, were barred at the Naia.

“I do hope we can resolve this issue that brilliant Filipino healthcare workers, already employed by the NHS, can get back to the UK to carry on with their jobs,” British ambassador to Manila Daniel Pruce responded to Locsin, also on Twitter.

Locsin immediately expressed his sympathy and support for the health workers.

“You really do not want to be stuck here under the regime of people who don’t know anything,” he said.

The secretary said he would raise the issue to the Cabinet and the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the government adhoc policymaking body to contain the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“We will fight the ban in the IATF. We will fight the ban in the Cabinet. We will fight shit for brains. We will never surrender our constitutional right to travel and our contractual right to work where there is need for our work,” Locsin said.

‘Just an opinion’

He said he wanted the POEA resolution, which was “just an opinion,” included on the IATF-EID agenda on Monday.

“No discussion. … Just a raising of hands—for our people or against our people. Also, no one talks who is not a Cabinet member,” he added.

When told about Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s claim that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) representative at the POEA governing board did not object to the resolution on the deployment ban, Locsin replied: “Well I, as SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, object to it and fill up the silence of the DFA representative. I REJECT THIS ABOMINATION.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said the government could suspend the deployment of Filipino healthcare workers but must ensure they will have jobs in the health care sector in the country.

It should study the impact of its ban on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare personnel with existing contracts abroad, he added.

“If our government presses forward with the sweeping ban on the exit of Filipino healthcare workers, even if they have live contracts, our labor department, in coordination with the Department of Health, should be prepared to take them into our healthcare system at the very least,” Villanueva said in a text message.

‘Recall the resolution’
“Otherwise, if there is no pro-active and parallel effort to track them down and encourage them to work in our healthcare system, the government should rethink its policy, and instead allow the exit of those healthcare workers with existing contracts, and the ban should only cover new contracts,” he said.

Labor groups also slammed the DOLE for the ban.

The Nagkaisa labor coalition demanded that Bello recall the POEA resolution, which temporarily suspended the deployment of 14 categories of health workers due to the national emergency.

“We are placing our health workers in a state of limbo or uncertainty,” Nagkaisa chair Sonny Matula said in a statement on Saturday.

”We cannot just ban health workers from going abroad to work when it is not clear whether DOLE or the Department of Health will utilize their skills or they will be hired or compensated during the temporary deployment suspension,” he added.

Matula warned that if the order is not rescinded, the affected health workers were at risk of being blacklisted due to breach of contract.

Under the order, doctors, nurses, microbiologists, pharmacists and medical technologists, among others, cannot leave the country in “support [of] the national objective of controlling the spread of COVID-19 through the regulation [of their] deployment.”

But it did not specify where they may be temporarily assigned other than that they would be prioritized in the “human resource allocation for the national health care system.”

For national interest

Under Section 5 of Republic Act No. 8042, or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, the POEA governing board, after consultation with the DFA, may terminate or impose a ban on the deployment of migrant workers “in pursuit of national interest or when public welfare so requires.”

Locsin said the DFA representative in the POEA board “couldn’t do anything but invoke standing IATF resolution excluding OFWS with work contracts from any restriction or ban.”

He opposed about two weeks earlier a proposal by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez to suspend the deployment of Filipino nurses abroad amid the public health emergency. - By: Jerome Aning - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ Philippine Daily Inquirer

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