MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is weighing on the legality of stopping the migration of health workers in the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
In a taped public address aired late Monday night, Duterte said he would discuss with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra whether it was legal to stop the migration of health workers since he was concerned about their health and safety.
“Maybe two days from now, we’ll have to meet again and consult legal si Secretary Guevarra whether or not it would be legal for us to just stop the migration of health workers simply because they are being taken in a place wherein there is so much…” he said.
Duterte clarified that the reason he wanted to stop them from leaving the country was that he did not want the workers to return to the country as among the Covid-19 fatalities.
“But this one if I send you to a war front, the enemy is the Covid, the microbes, eh parang maawa ako (it’s like I feel pity). I do not… Please do not misunderstand me. I am making it clear now. I do not want you to go there and come back in a coffin. That’s my — that’s my only argument if you may because you are Filipinos at mahal ko ang mga buhay ng kababayan ko (and I love the life of my fellow citizens),” he said.
He said his unease over their health and safety was a “more valid reason” to stop them from migrating compared to what he initially said was his fear that the country would be deprived of health workers.
“The Covid is here to stay…that is how dangerous it is for itong ating mga (our) health workers,” he said.
Last April 13, Duterte expressed concern that the country might run out of health workers to treat local Covid-19 patients if they went abroad.
He criticized the US for aggressively recruiting Filipino nurses instead of relying on their own human resources.
However, Duterte also admitted that he could not blame Filipino medical professionals for wanting to work abroad following an increased global demand for them due to the prevailing pandemic.
“Hindi ko sinisisi, hindi ako galit, wala akong emotions actually about this. But kung gusto ninyong kayong mga nurse na Pilipino gusto ninyong magsilbi sa ibang bayan, sa ibang tao, okay lang sa akin (I don’t blame them, I’m not angry, I don’t have emotions about this. But if you Filipino nurses wanted to serve the country or other people, it’s okay with me),” he said.
Earlier, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) issued Resolution No. 09, temporarily suspending the deployment of all health care workers “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until Covid 19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination countries”.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) reviewed the temporary deployment ban after nurses of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service were barred from catching their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Upon review, the IATF allowed health workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8 to be deployed abroad.
However, other health workers who do not have signed contracts as of March 8 will still be covered by the POEA’s deployment ban.
Health workers who will leave for abroad will need to execute a declaration signifying they know the risks involved in their departure.
To date, global Covid-19 cases surpass 3.5 million and deaths neared a quarter of a million.
In the Philippines, there are a total of 9,485 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 623 deaths as of May 4. (ia/PNA)