Duterte asks health workers to stay in PH during coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – Despite a deployment ban against overseas Filipino health workers that quickly drew backlash, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to medical workers to remain in the country during the coronavirus outbreak. 

In a late-night speech on Monday, April 13, Duterte said he could not blame Filipino nurses for leaving the Philippines to seek better pay for their work, but requested they stay in the country to help treat the increasing number of coronavirus cases. 

Tayo naman ang Task Force…ganito, ‘wag kayo umalis lahat either may gusto o wala…dahil mangangailagan (tayo)…there’s no end in sight…and our numbers are increasing,” Duterte said. 

(In the Task Force…here, don’t all leave (whether) you want to or not…because we will need you…there’s no end in sight…and our numbers are increasing.) 

It was not clear if Duterte approved or rejected the resolution of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus to allow health workers with existing contracts to leave the country for work abroad.  

Earlier on Monday, both Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that the IATF adopted a resolution easing restrictions on the deployment ban against health workers, though this was still up for Duterte’s approval. 

Duterte disagrees: The government’s move to allow workers with existing contracts to leave the country came after Locsin voiced his opposition to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency’s deployment ban. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs chief vowed to help the affected health workers, calling the ban an "abomination," as well as a violation of the Constitutional right to travel and the inviolability of contracts. 

Duterte disagreed with Locsin. 

Were the Philippines not in a state of national emergency, Duterte said he would allow health workers to leave the country. Duterte then pointed to China which could command its citizens to follow strict rules put in place during the outbreak. 

It is a communist regime, it demands total obedience. Hindi ka pwede magsabi ‘Ay, hindi-hindi.’ Huli ka. Dito, 'di ko pwede magawa niyan kasi demokrasya, papasok ang human rights,” he said.  

(It is a communist regime it demands total obedience. You can’t disagree. You’ll get arrested. Here, I can’t do that because its a democracy and there are human rights.) 

American problem: Discussing the same issue, Duterte also blamed health workers who wanted to leave the county on the United States, which earlier put out a call for Filipino nurses in light of the global health emergency.  

Ang problema Amerikano, you could have relied on your human resource…. Ngayon kinakaltasan mo ang Pilipinas. Pagdating ng panahon magkulang tayo, sorry na lang tayo...di ako galit, wala ako emotion about this. Kayong mga nurse na Pilipino, kung gusto niyo magsilbi sa ibang bayan sa ibang tao, okay lang sa akin,” he said. 

(The problem is, Americans, you could have relied on your human resource(s)…. Now, you’re taking from the Philippines. If we get to a point where we lack workers… we’ll be sorry…I’m not mad, I have no emotions about this. If you Filipino nurses want to work for people in other countries, I’m okay with that.) 

For decades, however, Filipino nurses have opted to work abroad due to low wages and the government’s failure to improve poor working conditions in the country. 

Duterte himself admitted the government did not have enough funds to increase nurses’ pay. 

Ngayon nangangailangan kayo ng nurse, express. Kami naman ngayon kinakabahan, wala kami pambigay na singlaki…naintindihan ko yan, self-preservation,” he said.

(Now you need nurses, express. We’re nervous because we can’t offer them as much….I understand [nurses’] self-preservation.) 

Earlier in 2019, Solicitor General Jose Calida blocked a petition at the Supreme Court seeking a hike in the salary grade of government nurses, saying it lacked legal basis and would result in inequity among government workers' wages. 

As of Monday, the Philippines has 4,932 coronavirus cases, with 315 deaths and 242 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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