Wed. Jan 19th, 2022

First of a series, exclusive to

Now that there is a widespread outcry for the removal of Secretary Duque as secretary of health, up to when will the President tolerate the proven incompetence and corruption of Silvestre Bello III as secretary of labor?

Bello is the chairman of the board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority (POEA) that recently banned healthcare workers from leaving the country.

In its Resolution No. 09 Series of 2020 signed on April 2, the POEA said the following workers cannot be deployed “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until Covid-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination country”:

Medical doctor, Nurse, Microbiologist, Molecular biologist, Clinical analyst, Respiratory therapist, Pharmacist, Laboratory technician, radiologic technician, Nursing assistant, Operator of medical equipment, Supervisor of health services and personal care and Repairman of medical-hospital equipment.

Negotiations of bilateral labor agreements for government-to-government deployment of healthcare workers were also suspended by the resolution until the duration of the national state of emergency.

But the ban was not disclosed to the public until April 10, albeit by surprise, when immigration officials prevented Filipino nurses working for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service from catching their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport

The cancellation of their flight to fulfill their signed contracts abroad was met with overwhelming protests from formal as well as informal sectors. Social media bled for days.

Nurses minced no words against the POEA resolution, striking it as “involuntary servitude” obstructing “life-changing opportunities.” That lone ranger Bello and his tonto, Bernard Olalia, do not know that we have oversupply and underpayment of nurses cannot feign ignorance over this matter.

Leah Paquiz, chairperson of Ang Nars: “If the government wants to keep our health workers within our country, then we must offer competitive salaries and benefits so they will choose to stay, instead of being forced to.”  

Nurses have also started an online petition, emphasizing that most of them already have existing contracts and the deployment ban may affect their visa validity.

“Despite the government offering us an allowance of P500 daily as compensation for volunteering, we are still looking forward for the deployment abroad due to the compensation that they are capable of giving,” the petition read.

“Nurses who applied abroad have spent most of their time, effort and money to comply with the needed requirements so they can immediately work abroad.”

A coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups vehemently objected to the resolution saying “other than being a violation of the right to travel, this ban might be considered an order imposing involuntary servitude prohibited under Article III, Section 18 (2) of the Constitution which states: ‘No involuntary servitude in any form shall exist except as a punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted’.”

Primus interpares

Nagkaisa Labor Coalition also cited Article 13 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to leave any country including their own, and to return to their country.

The strongest opposition to the POEA resolution, however, came from one of Secretary Bello’s primus interpares in the Duterte cabinet.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. dismissed the ban as “unconstitutional” and when Bello said that the DFA representative at the POEA governing board did not object to the resolution which made it unanimous, he rejected it as an “abomination.”

“What is this? Have idiots ever heard of Constitutional right to travel specially to get the hell out of here and get decent jobs and decent pay abroad? Government can ban those whose education it financially supported. Not those who had scraped to pay tuition,” Locsin twitted.

Backpedalling, the POEA tagged the ban as temporary and rationalized that the deployment ban aims to “prioritize human resource allocation” in the country’s healthcare system. It also said the resolution also emphasized that it is of “paramount national interest” to prepare health personnel that will “replace, substitute or reinforce” healthcare workers currently working in the local frontlines.

What correct process Bello did not follow, Locsin complied with.

President Duterte declared a state of public health emergency over the corona virus pandemic on March 9. In addition, he formed the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the government’s ad hoc and highest policymaking body during the crisis.

Ad hoc means necessary, in case you don’t realize.  

“We will fight the ban in the IATF. We will fight the ban in 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,” said Locsin.

Duterte declared a state of public health emergency over the corona virus outbreak on March 9. In addition, he formed the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), as the government’s ad hoc and highest policymaking body during the crisis.  

“There is an idiot suggestion to ban their ‘export’ as if they are products. I will fornicate the ‘suggester’ in the eye sockets. Bobo. We don’t deserve our nurses,” the foreign affairs secretary added in a later twit.

Bello should have cleared his idea with the ad hoc body. As a result, he exposed himself as the “idiot” and “shit” Locsin was referring to.

Slap on Bello’s face

Worse, acting posthaste, the task force subsequently cut the Solomonic wisdom that Bello and Olalia obviously do not have, announcing the easing restrictions on the POEA deployment ban against health workers, a virtual slap on Bello’s face. 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a briefing “All medical and allied healthcare professionals with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 shall be allowed for deployment abroad.”

This was followed by the President’s affirmation with a democratic caveat, saying in his nightly “fireside chat” on TV that while he was “okay” with the decision of health workers to leave, he appealed to them to remain in the country during the corona virus outbreak.

This is not the first time Secretary Bello has shown insensitivity and incompetence in making decisions affecting the country’s labor resource.

His personal lobby to the President allowing the lifting of the deployment ban for domestic helpers to Kuwait as an offshoot of the brutal murder of Joanna Demafelis in 2018, resulted a year after in the repatriation of yet another corpse.  

Demafelis, a 29-year-old Filipina migrant worker, suffered from broken ribs and internal bleeding before she died. Her body was found inside a freezer in the Al Shaab district of Kuwait in February, a year after she had gone missing.

Last January 8, 2020, the remains of Filipino household service worker Jeanelyn Villavende, who was allegedly killed by her employer’s wife last month, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. met with the slain worker’s family hours before the arrival of her remains.

“She was just five months in their employ and her torture already began, relieved only by the few seconds she was given for phone calls to her family whose typhoon destroyed dwelling she wanted to rebuild. Then no more calls,” Locsin wrote on Twitter.

People are allergic to the phrase these are times that try men’s souls. So I will quote some pertinent pointers from a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review to guide leaders faced with the Corona Virus crisis.

“Leading through a crisis requires taking the long view, as opposed to managing the present (response). You need to anticipate what comes next week, next month, and even next year in order to prepare the organization for the changes ahead. 

“While it may seem obvious, crises are crises because they affect people.

“However, leaders can instead become trapped by focusing on the daily metrics of share price, revenue, and costs. These are important, but they are the outcome of the coordinated efforts of people.

“Organizations exist in order to accomplish together things that individuals cannot do alone.

“The solution is to unite people in their efforts and goals as valued members of a cohesive team. This starts with a common, clearly articulated mission that infuses the work with purpose.

“The mission is then animated through an inclusive leadership approach where each person understands how they can contribute—and that their contribution is recognized.

“This gives deeper meaning to even the most menial tasks.”

There is also a saying that you cannot teach new tricks to an old dog.

While this definitely does not apply to his boss who even as a septuagenarian lawyer has become inspiring to an entire nation because of his creativity at problem solving honed in his years as a city mayor dealing daily with realpolitik, Bello is one for the books as a lawyer who never transcended a regulatory mindset.

When someone reacted to Locsin’s twit saying that it was not the time to criticize the government and that Filipinos need to trust that their government was doing its “best” to help them amid the pandemic, Locsin replied:

“Yes! but when their BEST is not only not enough but detrimental to the public and hurtful to the most vulnerable – no I am not referring to f*%#ing Commie agitators – then speak out & fight – like that ban on our underpaid and abused nurses going back to their decent jobs abroad.”

I beg to “agree” with the “teddy boy,” but actually he was partly wrong – Bello is in fact a “Commie,” and inside the Cabinet at that! No less than the President himself provided the intel confirmation and on television at that!

(To be continued)

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