DOLE chief sees positive action on nurses’ appeal for easing of deployment ban

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Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III says he will raise the nurses’ fresh appeal when the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force meets today. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 20)— Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has disclosed that the government's ban on Filipino nurses leaving for overseas jobs will be reviewed by authorities.

Although he did not cite details in an interview with CNN Philippines, Bello said he was confident there will be a “positive development” on the call for the ban's lifting, which nurses' groups have aired in recent months.

Bello confirmed he will raise the nurses’ fresh appeal during the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force’s meeting slated on Thursday.

“(On Wednesday) I received a letter from one of the nurses, appealing na kung maaari ay ireconsider (deployment ban). I had that calendared for (Thursday's) meeting of the IATF. I am confident na pagbibigyan sila ng IATF,” Bello said in an interview on CNN Philippines' The Source.

“I’ll try my best na by this afternoon, meron na tayong positive development,” he added.

[Translation: (On Wednesday), I received a letter from one of the nurses, appealing the deployment ban can be reconsidered. I had that calendared for today’s meeting of the IATF. I am confident that the IATF will be amenable to the call. I’ll try my best that by this afternoon, we’ll have a positive development.]

Should the IATF decide to ease restrictions on their deployment, Bello said that only the nurses who were able to secure complete documents and contracts as of March 8 can leave the country.

The IATF on Monday released resolution no. 64, which states that the overseas deployment of medical and allied health workers was temporarily suspended amid the “continuing state of public health emergency.”

The directive is pursuant to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Governing Board Resolution No. 09 Series of 2020, which freezes the deployment of certain healthcare workers— including nurses— “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination countries.”

Around 600 nurses have already appealed to the government for the ban's lifting— citing that a number of these frontliners have already paid sums of money and resources for their travel and employment documents to be processed.

Bello, for his part, said the Task Force was only worried that the country would run out of manpower— particularly nurses with work experience.

Total lifting of deployment ban

While the easing of the ban is a welcome development for some, another nurses’ group maintained that the government should consider totally lifting restrictions on the deployment of healthcare workers, saying that Filipinos have the right to seek opportunities abroad.

Ang atin pong panawagan ay total lifting ng ban. Kasi wala pong karapatan ang ating pamahalaan na pilitin ang ating mga healthcare workers, katulad ng mga nurses, na manatili sa bansa kung mayroon naman silang pagkakataon para sa isang oportunidad sa labas ng bansa na maiahon sa kahirapan ang kani-kanilang mga pamilya,” Filipino Nurses United President Maristella Abenojar said.

[Translation: Our call is for the total lifting of the ban. Our government has no right to force our healthcare workers, including our nurses, to stay in the country if they have the chance to grab an opportunity abroad— so they can help their own families.]

Abenojar likewise refuted claims that the Philippines would have a shortage of nurses should the deployment push through, claiming that there are over 200,000 nurses in the country who are either unemployed or underemployed. The estimated value was calculated using data on licensure examination takers and the current employment of nurses, she noted.

However, Bello stressed that government agencies would still need to reconcile data on the official employment numbers, with different figures coming in.

Nurses’ plight

On the same television talk show, April Glory, one of the nurses affected by the deployment ban, personally appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to hear the workers’ plea, especially with the future of her family on the line.

Glory— who had worked in Saudi Arabia for five years before coming home— recalled how some of her fellow nurses have even resorted to borrowing money and selling properties just to finalize their work documents.

“On our part, for ordinary people like us, 'yung maliit na halaga na gagastusin para dito sa employment namin, para sa processing, malaking bagay na yun,” Glory said, as she lamented the “unfair” treatment of healthcare workers in the country.

Parang awa niyo na, bigyan niyo ng chance 'yung mga gustong umalis na makapagsimula ng bagong buhay. Gusto ko sa Pilipinas, but I have to choose. Priority ko ‘yung anak ko. Kung kailangan ng anak ko na magsakripisyo ako sa ibang bansa, gagawin ko ‘yun. Sana pakinggan kami ni President Duterte at ng IATF,” she stressed.

[Translation: On our part, for ordinary people like us, the little amount we spent for our employment processing is already a big deal. I’m begging for them to give those nurses who want to leave a chance to start over. I want to stay here in the Philippines, but I have to choose. My child is my priority. If my child needs me to sacrifice in another country, then so be it. I hope President Duterte and the IATF listens.]

Bello, in response, acknowledged the workers’ situation amid the crisis, but once again appealed for further understanding.

“I do hope you understand na ang talagang interes natin dito ay ang ating mga kababayan (this is for the benefit of our countrymen),” the Labor chief said.