MANILA – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday said it is perfectly legal for President Rodrigo Duterte to exercise police powers to stop Filipino health workers from migrating.
He made this remark after Duterte, in a taped public address aired on Monday night, said he would discuss with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra the legality of stopping health workers from leaving the country since he was concerned about their health and safety.
“Perfectly legal. In fact, that’s pursuant to the general welfare laws. It is an exercise of police power because the primary basis for the President’s concern is that these people are going to the most dangerous places as far as Covid-19 is concerned. United States, Italy, Spain, these are now the places with the most number of pandemic cases,” Roque said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).
Section 16 of the Local Government Code or the “General Welfare Clause” states that “every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied therefrom, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare.”
It also states that: “Within their respective territorial jurisdictions, local government units shall ensure and support, among other things, the preservation and enrichment of culture, promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology, encourage and support the development of appropriate and self-reliant scientific and technological capabilities, improve public morals, enhance economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants.”
Roque explained that if the government was already restricting travel to these countries, it would not make sense allowing health workers to go abroad.
“If we are restricting travel to these places, why are we allowing them now to work in these places? I think it’s a valid exercise of police power but he’s still exploring it. He’s asked the Department of Justice to look into the matter,” he said.
Roque also pointed out that a shortage of medical professionals in the country is also being considered as a basis for stopping their migration.
“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 said the dangers that lie in allowing them to leave the country was a “more valid reason” to stop them compared to what he initially said was his fear that the country would be deprived of health workers.
“But this one if I send you to a war front, the enemy is the (Covid-19), 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.
Duterte earlier admitted that the government cannot afford to pay health workers at par with their wages overseas, but appealed to their sense of nationalism to convince them to stay while the country is facing a health crisis.
Last month 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”.
Criticism from labor groups prompted the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to review the temporary deployment ban and eventually allow health workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8 to be deployed abroad.
Over a thousand health workers have tested positive for Covid-19 while more than 30 have died, health authorities said.
To ensure the safety of medical professionals, the government has vowed to acquire additional personal protective equipment (PPE) gears and other medical supplies needed for their protection.
To date, global Covid-19 cases surpassed 3.6 million with over 250,000 deaths.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has 9,684 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 1,408 recoveries and 637 deaths. (ia/PNA)