Back in April, the Malacanang Palace has ordered the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) to cease the deployment of Filipino nurses for overseas work. This is amid the state of national emergency set in place by the government due to the effects of the viral outbreak that has crippled economies and various sectors not only in the Philippines but also in many other countries.
In a statement released by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, OFWs are now allowed to be deployed abroad, including those who do not have an existing contract due to new employment, so long as they finish processing their documents, but this does not include nurses and medical professionals with new contracts who wish to practice their profession overseas.
Between Health and Safety: The Plight of Filipino Nurses Here and Abroad
Despite receiving outrage and clamor from the public to review the department order, the ban has remained in effect for almost a month now, as shared in a report by CNN Philippines.
And when asked as to when the government will lift the deployment ban, Roque answered: “once there is no more COVID-19 threat in countries where they would be employed”.
The presidential spokesperson again clarified that the deployment ban would not affect those with existing contracts.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) had temporarily suspended the deployment of workers abroad so they could help the country in fighting the pandemic.
Also, President Duterte said that he would consult the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the legality of stopping health workers from migrating to other countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, more Filipino nurses have been silently and unceasingly battling the threat of the virus in large populations and understaffed facilities.
Filipino Nurses Abroad Face Similar Challenges, If Not More
In the UK alone, as of May 16, there have been 173 confirmed Covid-19 deaths of frontline health and care workers. Of those, 23 (approximately 13 percent) were of Filipino heritage.
According to Francis Fernando, nurse and officer for the Filipino Nurses Association UK, there have been more deaths in the UK during the crisis than in the Phillippines – although a lack of reliable data makes it difficult to prove definitively.
Official figures reveal that around 18,500 Filipinos worked in the NHS in England – more than any other single ethnic group outside the UK as of March 2019 – amounting to roughly 1.5 percent of the service’s 1.2 million workforce.
According to Fernando, the Filipino Nurses Association had heard ‘a lot of anecdotal stories about black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff being hand-picked to work in COVID wards, again without adequate protection’.
And while some of the staff would say no, many still accept the call to serve as part of their sworn oath and duty to care for their patients as nurses and professionals.
Service and Safety Come First
The heated debate as to the legality of the deployment ban on health professionals affect physicians, nurses, medical technicians, and other medical staff.
The reversal of the ban though, according to POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, is based on two conditions: When President Rodrigo Duterte lifts his declaration of a state of public health emergency, and when host countries reopen their borders to foreign workers.
Olalia also shared: “The ban is temporary and therefore when circumstances warrant, the Governing Board resolution may be amended anytime… Almost all major destinations of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) have imposed also a temporary travel ban and this coincides with our own temporary suspension of deployment.”
He also noted that the current situation of work for Filipino medical professionals overseas places them at a higher risk for infection as many of their destination countries are now peaking in number [of cases].
The POEA department order is put into effect by the Republic Act 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, that mandates government agencies like the POEA to address the shortage of health care workers needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The current situation has opened the eyes of many lawmakers and government figures as to the importance of healthcare workers in cases of emergencies, but there is no legislation currently set in place to ensure the welfare and job security of nurses in the Philippines.