‘I love my countrymen’: Duterte mulls stopping healthcare workers from moving overseas

President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Presidential Communications Office/FB
President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Presidential Communications Office/FB

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to consult with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to know if there’s a legal basis in his plan to stop healthcare workers from leaving the Philippines, the chief executive said in a publicly broadcast speech last night.

“What is painful for me is that now when we need desperately the help of the manpower…in a jiffy they are given the necessary travel documents and its to our disadvantage, really,” Duterte said in English and Filipino.

Duterte said he wants to stop health workers from immigrating to other countries to protect them from COVID-19.

Read: Duterte ‘OK’ with Filipino nurses working abroad but warns possible shortage

“[W]e will have to look at this again, it has to be this week, maybe two days from now. We will have to meet again and consult legal, [DOJ] Secretary [Menardo] Guevarra, whether or not it would be legal for us to just stop the migration of health workers simply because they are being taken in a place where there is so much [suffering],” the president said.

“I feel so bad for Filipinos…To make it clear, we are…it’s a more valid reason to stop a doctor or a nurse than the previous one which said we will [be] deprive[d] of workers. That has no leg to stand on,” Duterte said.

The president is referring to the resolution passed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration last month which temporarily stopped the deployment of healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 outbreak, saying that the move aims to “prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system” while there was an ongoing pandemic. Because of the resolution, some health workers with existing overseas contracts were stopped from leaving the country, until Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. intervened on their behalf.

“[B]ut this one, if I send you to a war front the enemy is the COVID, the microbes, I feel really bad for you,” Duterte said. “Please do not misunderstand me. I am making it clear now. I do not want you to go there and come back in a coffin. That’s my only argument if you may because you are Filipinos and I really love the lives of my countrymen.”

Several Filipino nurses and hospital workers based overseas have reportedly died of COVID-19. In the United Kingdom, at least 25 Filipino nurses have died of the coronavirus, reports the BBC.  Meanwhile, in the New York-New Jersey area alone, at least 30 Filipino nurses have died, reports ProPublica.

Yet things are equally dire here in the Philippines, where at least 27 healthcare workers have died, 21 of whom are doctors while the rest are nurses. The staggering rate of Filipino healthcare workers infected with the coronavirus has prompted the World Health Organization to describe the situation as “very worrisome.”

Prior to the president’s pronouncements last night, he said last month that he was “OK” with Filipino nurses choosing to move overseas, but warned that their departure could lead to a shortage in the future.




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