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Cap on health workers leaving PH hit

A Catholic bishop has questioned the government’s cap on the deployment of medical workers abroad, saying the move will not ensure that there are enough health workers to assist in the COVID-19 response in the Philippines.

In a report on CBCP.net, the official news site of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Ruperto Santos, vice chair of the commission for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, said he welcomed President Duterte’s lifting of the ban on deployment of health workers but questioned the limit on the number of workers allowed to leave each year.

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On Nov. 21, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) announced that the President had already lifted the deployment ban on health-care workers, allowing only 5,000 to leave the country every year to ensure there are enough left to fight the pandemic.

“Now as the President lifted it, why limit it or put a number,” Santos was quoted as saying.

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The government, he said, should instead improve the working conditions, secure benefits and promote the welfare of our health workers to make them stay in the country.

Another proposition, he said, was to make it mandatory for fresh graduates to serve the country for at least a year before working abroad.

With around 16,000 nurses and health-care workers already deployed abroad so far this year despite the restrictions, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) wants to know from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) how many more would be allowed to go overseas for the rest of the year.

POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said they were waiting for the IATF resolution to see the exact coverage of allowed deployment.

16,000 already deployed

“The actual deployment of our [health-care workers], which includes the deployment of new hires, direct hires and returning workers, already reached 16,000 plus as of August or September this year,” Olalia told an online press briefing on Monday.

“Exactly we have to look at the language of the IATF [resolution] so that we will be guided accordingly whether this 5,000 cap refers only to the deployment of new hires. If that is the case, then we will examine how many new hires were deployed beginning January,” he said.

“As soon as we get the IATF resolution, the next day we can issue the guidelines,” he said.

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Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday assured the public that even if Mr. Duterte had decided to lift the deployment ban on health professionals, the country would still have enough nurses and nursing assistants to care for Filipinos.

The POEA, which regulates the deployment of overseas Filipino workers, issued an order on April 2, temporarily suspending the deployment of health-care workers abroad “to prioritize” human resource in the country, which has been struggling to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

Roque said that before Mr. Duterte decided to lift the ban, he received assurance from Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that there would be enough health workers left in the Philippines.

The President did not immediately approve the recommendation to lift the ban while he consulted with the Department of Health, Roque said in a press briefing.

The lifting of the ban was recommended by the IATF and the Dole, he said.

“There was a balancing of interests where they looked at the country’s need for nurses, nursing assistants and nursing aides while considering other countries’ recognition of the talent of Filipinos and the demand for them overseas,” he said. —With a report from Inquirer Research INQ

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, health workers' foreign deployment ban
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