The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent
A senior cabinet official on Wednesday came under heavy fire for his proposal to secure more coronavirus vaccines from Germany and the United Kingdom in exchange for their exemption from an order limiting the foreign deployment of Filipino frontline medical workers especially nurses.
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.
This was revealed by Alice Visperas, a ranking labor department official, who said Bello was also scheduled to talk with the German ambassador to the Philippines regarding the deployment more Filipino nurses and other frontline health workers to his country.
Earlier, the Duterte administration imposed a ban on the foreign deployment of Filipino medical workers due to the pandemic. But the government later partially lifted the ban by allowing a maximum of 5,000 nurses and other health workers per year to go abroad provided they have valid employment papers.
It was also Bello who informed the Senate during committee hearing on Monday that Germany and the UK have requested for their exemption from the 5,000-limit. He disclosed as an example the case of Germany that wanted to hire as many as 15,000 Filipino nurses due to the pandemic.
Bello defended the move, saying that in exchange for their exemption, the UK and Germany would be asked to supply more COVID-19 vaccines to be given mostly to the estimated 600,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were repatriated to the country.
But Bello's defense did not sit well with administration Senator Joel Villanueva, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, who said: "Deployment of OFWs is not a barter trade. We simply do not swap people for products."
Two outspoken members of militant party list groups in the House of Representatives also joined Villanueva in assailing Bello. Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the women's party list Gabriela said: "The offer is a desperate attempt to patch up the government's incompetence in securing vaccines for the Filipino people, including OFWs."
Congressman Ferdinand Gaite of "Bayan Muna" (Country First) group minced no words in denouncing the government, especially Dello, calling the proposal as a "shame" and an "embarrassment" to the country.
"It's a shame we have reached this point where our nurses are being made to pay for failure of this administration. Our nurses are being held hostage so they can be used as bargaining chips," Gaite said.
The Philippines, which ranks second in the region for the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, still has to start its nationwide inoculation programme compared to its fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
In response to criticisms, the government blamed the delay in the arrival of the vaccines it had ordered due to the sudden demand of drug manufacturers especially those from the West, for an indemnity agreement.
The agreement was for the government to pay patients who received their vaccine shots and later complained of experiencing adverse side effects that resulted, among others, in their hospitalisation.
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.
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 in the number of infections.
The total number of doses provided up to Friday stands at 2,339,073 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 23.65 doses per 100 people.
The deal arrives just in time for a summit of world leaders hosted by the U.S. government on Thursday and Friday, where the EU and other global powers will promote their pledges to protect the planet.
Biden has invited 40 world leaders including Xi and Russia's Vladimir Putin to the meet starting on Earth Day, meant to mark Washington's return to the front lines of the fight against climate change after former president Donald Trump disengaged from the process.
As aviation industry players have become more optimistic on the resumption of international flights worldwide, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with a leading European diagnostic service provider, for more ease to passengers required to secure negative Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) test results.
Sheikh Abdullah affirmed the depth and strength of relations between the UAE and Pakistan, which, he said, are longstanding and based on mutual trust and respect. He stressed the two nations’ determination to grow cooperation across all fields for the common good of both nations’ peoples.