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.
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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.
The campaign comes as a grateful response to UAE’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, which recently crossed 10 million. It encourages all Filipino UAE residents to place a customised frame on their Facebook profile photos.
Member states are struggling to contain a third wave of the epidemic and kick-start vaccine programmes slowed by a shortfall in deliveries, and Britain has warned the bloc against resorting "vaccine nationalism."
The fresh suspensions were a major blow to a global immunisation campaign that experts hope will help end a year-long pandemic that has already killed over 2.6 million people and decimated the global economy.
The announcement comes as the Ministry of Health and Prevention on Sunday expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility in line with the UAE's proactive policy to ensure the health and safety of all community members.
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President Iohannis was welcomed by Sheikh Mohamed at Qasr Al Watan in Abu Dhabi. The official reception ceremony included a guard of honour welcome, a performance of the national anthem of Romania and a 21-gun salute.
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