Locsin pushes IATF to lift deployment ban on nurses or 'pay big money'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday argued that the government cannot hold hostage thousands of nurses who wish to work abroad instead of in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locsin said several members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases share the opinion of President Rodrigo Duterte that nurses should stay in the country as "reserve force" should the pandemic worsen. But for the foreign affairs chief, the government should pay them the amount they would have earned abroad if not for the deployment ban.

"I said, in that case, pay for it. I don't mean pay peanuts for it, I mean pay big money if you want keep them in reserve... [We] cannot hold a section of our population hostage for that eventuality" he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Locsin has been vocal on his stand against the deployment ban, saying it is unconstitutional to deny the nurses their right to travel and earn a living.

He added that the huge number of nursing graduates who are left unemployed or underemployed by the government policy is unacceptable.

"I know there are competing claims on nurses, but for God's sakes 400,000 is an army," the top envoy said, referring to the number of unemployed or underemployed nurses in the country.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said only 600 nurses are affected by the total deployment ban, citing information from the Philippine Nurses Association.

Locsin said he will continue to fight for the plight of healthcare workers despite constantly losing the argument with members of IATF.

"They earn peanuts in our lousy medical system and they are well treated and respected abroad, which is what every person needs," he stressed.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said that the ban will be reviewed by authorities, assuring there will be a "positive development."

The government has flip-flopped on the deployment ban. In April, officials announced the exemption of all medical workers who have competed their documents as of March 8, ahead of the imposition of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine. An August 17 resolution of the IATF stated the temporary suspension of the deployment of all medical and allied health workers, without mentioning any exemptions. That resolution was revised on August 20, with government now allowing those who have secured contracts and overseas employment certificates before March 8 to leave the country to work.

Related: Gov’t again allows deployment of health workers with contracts as of March 8