A Filipino nurse relaxes at the COVID-19 ward at a hospital in Manila. File
President Rodrigo Duterte lifted the ban on the foreign deployment of medical frontliners especially nurses mainly due to the significant reduction in the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Philippines, a senior Malacanang Palace official confirmed on Saturday.
However, Labour Secretary Bello clarified that initially the ban would cover at least 5,000 healthcare workers much in demand in the US, Europe and the Middle East, who would be allowed to leave for abroad annually.
"The president already approved the temporary suspension of the deployment of the medical workers," Bello said, adding the decision arose from a drop in the number of COVID-19 cases as well as in the death toll.
In April, the government imposed a ban on the foreign deployment especially of Filipino nurses to help control the spread of the disease. At that time, the Philippines ranked second in Southeast Asia after Indonesia in the number of infections as well as deaths.
But protests greeted the government decision as the nurses complained that they were underpaid, underprotected and overworked.
In this light, Maristela Abenojar, the head of the Filipino Nurses United described the lifting as a "welcome development" even as he challenged the government to make true its commitment to give the frontliners better pay and benefits.
But earlier, Abenojar lamented that public hospital nurses ironically suffered a demotion when the government raised their entry salary to Salary Grade (SG) 15 or slightly more than $600 a month last July.
This arose, Abenojar explained, from an order issued by the Department of Budget Management (DBM) that suspended the implementation of its circular particularly for Nurses 11 who were to receive $1,000 a month.
But the Department of Health (DOH) protested and issued its own circular suspending the implementation of the DBM order. Government hospitals, ignored the DOH order and thus, effectively resulted in the demotion of senior nurses, Abenojar said.
"Thousands of nurses suffered demotion and confusion," Abenojar said, "as they were pressured by their employers to sign reappointment documents that demoted them one rank from their present position."
But even with the increase in the entry salary, Filipino nurses are among the lower paid among the 10 members of the Association of Southest Asian Nations (Asean) particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, according to Abenojar.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives gave Secretary Silvestre Bello of the Department of Labour and Employment a severe verbal drubbing following revelations that he already talked with the UK ambassador to the Philippines on the issue.
"I have to go back to work," said Steven John Cabusao, who walked several kilometres on his first day of work after being confined to his home for 11 weeks.
In an expletives-laden statement he issued in a taped and televised message aired nationwide, Duterte also warned he would impose martial law if the communist rebels failed to stop their attacks on soldiers and policemen protecting government personnel in giving cash and other assistance like food to poor families especially in remote areas throughout the country.
Nations like France and South Korea began resuming face-to-face classes as they got their outbreaks under control, but Philippine authorities see the risk as too great. President Rodrigo Duterte said last month that even if students could not graduate, they needed to stay out of school to fight the spread of the disease.
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