Philippines could allow more health workers overseas if COVID-19 situation improves
Medical workers screen patients for possible COVID-19 before admission at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City on April 18, 2020.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

Philippines could allow more health workers overseas if COVID-19 situation improves

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - November 22, 2020 - 2:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — The country's labor secretary on Sunday said more health workers may be allowed to leave for abroad should the coronavirus situation at home improve, following the lifting of the deployment halt that was ordered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Rodrigo Duterte had approved the proposal to lift the months-long suspension which government said was to have more health workers respond to the COVID-19 crisis in the country but had since been opposed by groups.

The coronavirus task force's recommendation, however, puts a cap of only 5,000 medical professionals allowed to leave the country every year. 

But in a television interview on Sunday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the current number will go through a review that could see more workers allowed to work overseas. 

"Probably we can raise it to 7 or 8,000, depende sa situation sa ating bansa," he told CNN Philippines. "Ang atin lang, sinisiguro na kung sakaling sasama o lalala ang problema natin sa pandemya ay mayroon tayong sapat na number of nurses and medical workers that will tend to the needs of our countrymen."

(We can probably raise it to around 7 or 8,000 depending on the situation in the country. We are only being on the watch that if the pandemic worsens here, we will have enough nurses and medical workers.)

Bello admitted that government had reduced the deployment especially in countries with high coronavirus infections, which he said was also to prevent Filipino workers from being exposed to the virus. 

"Kailangan natin ang medical workers dito sa bansa at meron din countries of destination na delikado 'yung COVID situation...'yun ang mga factor kung bakit tayo nagbabawas ng deployment," he said. 

(We need the medical workers here in the country and because there are other countries of destination that the COVID situation is dangerous. Those are the factors on why we are decreasing deployment.)

The group Filipino Nurses United in a statement welcomed the suspension lifting, but raised concerns on how the medical professionals in the cap will be determined. 

"How will the government select the 5,000 health workers every year who will be allowed to work in other countries considering that for nurses alone, the average number migrating every year is 13,600?" said FNU national president Maristela Abenojar.

She added that the working conditions in the Philippines of health workers — rightly referred to as "frontliners" on the pandemic — will not improve if salaries, as well as hazard pay and special risk allowances, will continue to be delayed. 

Abenojar was referring to figures revealed in a Senate budget deliberation for the health department's 2021 budget that showed over 16,700 medical workers still uncompensated with their COVID-19 hazard pay. 

RELATED16,764 health workers have yet to receive COVID-19 hazard pay

Health officials in the said session admitted that there were no more funds for the said allocation under the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, the first pandemic aid package passed in March. 

"Benefits under Bayanihan 1 failed," Abenojar said. "Who will now believe that DOH and IATF can guarantee just salary and benefits for health workers and entice nurses to work in the country?"

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