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Health worker deployment ban constitutional — Panelo

Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
Health worker deployment ban constitutional â Panelo
Panelo said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. found the deployment ban objectionable because it impairs the right to travel and the inviolability of the obligations of contracts.
Presidential Photo / Yancy Lim

MANILA, Philippines — The ban on sending health workers abroad is constitutional, but existing contracts should be honored to avoid dismissals and lawsuits, chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday.

The temporary suspension of the deployment of health workers to other countries has drawn flak from groups, which argued that it violates the right to travel, promotes involuntary servitude and prevents workers from seeking job opportunities.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said the ban, effective until the state of emergency and travel restrictions related to the coronavirus disease 2019 are lifted, was meant to support efforts to contain COVID-19.

The government task force on COVID-19 has allowed workers with perfected and signed employment contracts as of March 8 to leave. Those who have no perfected or signed contracts are still covered by the ban.

Panelo, one of the officials who backs the lifting of the ban, said the question on deployment ban is no longer whether it is constitutional or legal, but whether it is correct or fair at this time.

“The health workers have existing perfected contracts, violation of which could result in their dismissal from their employment and they can be sued for damages for breach thereof,” Panelo said in a statement.

“It would not be fair to deprive them of their livelihood, of which their families depend on for their subsistence,” he added.

Panelo said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. found the deployment ban objectionable because it impairs the right to travel and the inviolability of the obligations of contracts.

He said that as a general rule, the right to travel is unimpaired but exceptions are allowed if a court issues a lawful order and if they are in line with the interest of national security, public safety or public health.

Panelo reiterated Locsin’s concern for the plight of health workers and their families who have been affected by the travel restriction.

“This representation joins Secretary Teddyboy Locsin on his call to lift the travel ban. While the travel ban is constitutional, equity and fairness dictate that the health workers with existing contracts abroad be allowed to fulfill their commitments on their existing contracts. Those who have no contracts yet will have to be covered by the ban,” he said.

Panelo disputed claims that allowing health workers to return to countries stricken by the virus would expose them to health hazards.

“The same apprehensive situation obtains here. Our country is also beleaguered by the presence of this pandemic. Remaining here subjects them to the same exposure to the virus,” he said.

Panelo disputed claims the ban is needed because there is shortage of health workers. He said the health department had debunked the claim and even claimed there is a surplus of health workers.

“Even assuming that we have a shortage, there is a need for clear statistics on this matter, so the government can determine which hospitals are in need of more healthcare workers and take the appropriate steps thereto,” Panelo said.

Army nurses

The Philippine Army (PA) is deploying 55 newly recruited registered nurses to various government treatment facilities.

These newly recruited nurses, all assigned at the PA medical team, will start reporting for duty at COVID-19 treatment facilities at the Army Wellness Center, Rizal Medical Complex and at the Army General Hospital (AGH), Army spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“The first batch of 16 Army nurses has been deployed at the AGH last week. The second batch of 39, who took their oath yesterday, started their three-day training on COVID-19 Responses for Nurses as well as orientation on the military organization,” Zagala said.

Prior to the deployment, Zagala said it is a standard operating procedure for the Army to provide new recruits with lectures and workshops on healthcare service, including introduction to COVID-19 disease, basic infection control, basic nursing procedures.

But because of the current health crisis, the nurses will just undergo basic military training after their COVID-19 duties.

SALVADOR PANELO
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