Senator Risa Hontiveros has asked the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to lift the overseas deployment ban for health care workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to IATF chairperson and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and IATF co-chairperson Karlo Nograles on Tuesday, the opposition senator emphasized that lifting the ban would ensure that the tedious training process and expenses of those aspiring to work abroad for their families would not be put to waste.
"Hindi lang oras ang inilaan ng ating mga kababayan para lang makapag-abroad. Marami ang nangutang, nagbenta ng ari-arian para lang masuportahan ang pangarap. They must be allowed to leave," Hontiveros said in a statement.
She said the government should instead offer better salaries to health workers to encourage them to stay for local employment.
Citing data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Hontiveros said the salary for entry level nurses in the Philippines ranges from P8,000 to P13,500.
"Hindi pwedeng pipigilan natin silang umalis, pero hindi natin sila bibigyan ng dahilan para mag-stay," Hontiveros said.
"Kung naaalagaan ang kapakanan nila, hindi na kailangan ng deployment ban sa mga susunod na taon. Mas mapapalakas din natin ang ating pampublikong kalusugan dahil mas maraming health workers ang pipiliing manatili sa bansa," she added.
Last July 17, the DBM issued Budget Circular 2020-4, upgrading the entry level salaries of government nurses from Salary Grade 11 to Salary Grade 15—amounting to around P32,000.
Hontiveros further said that the P13.5 billion allocated for the hiring of additional health workers and provision of additional benefits for them under the Bayanihan 2 bill shall not be used as a justification for the Philippine government to hinder the deployment of those who opt to work abroad.
Earlier this month, seven nurses bound for UK had reportedly been prevented from leaving the country because their visas were issued after March 8, though their contracts were signed before that date.
The Bureau of Immigration later cleared them for departure after consulting with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) over an "ambiguity" in its advisory on exemptions to a deployment ban of overseas healthcare workers.
According to POEA's Advisory No. 47-A issued June 2, the following healthcare workers are allowed to leave for their overseas employment: returning workers with OEC exemption certificates, new hires with contracts signed before March 8 and with OECs, and seafarers who were previously hired as doctors and nurses and will be deployed by the same licensed manning agency.
Senator Joel Villanueva, chairperson of the Senate committee on labor, said misunderstandings like this should immediately be clarified by the DOLE.
Like Senator Nancy Binay, he is also for the lifting of the deployment ban on healthcare workers, stressing the need to balance the regulation with realities on the ground.
On Tuesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he is looking on the possibility of also exempting nurses who have completed their requirements as of August 21 from the overseas deployment ban. —Dona Magsino/KG, GMA News