MANILA (UPDATE) - Sen. Joel Villanueva said Wednesday he would seek an explanation from the Philippine National Police on why it released Chinese doctors caught in illegal practice in the Philippines amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“... [W]ork permit is being issued by the Bureau of Immigration, not the Department of Labor... We’ll do our best to write a letter siguro sa PNP to find out,” Villanueva, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment, said during Wednesday's hearing in the chamber.
The issue of Chinese doctors still practicing their profession in the country was raised by Sen. Nancy Binay to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III during the hearing.
She cited the example of Chinese doctors caught in a clinic in Clark, Pampanga but who were later released because they supposedly had work permits.
“Sabi mayroon daw silang work permit. Gusto ko lang itanong unang-una, totoo ba talagang mayroong work permit itong mga supposed-to-be Chinese doctors? At kung may work permit sila, anong klaseng work permit ang nabigay sa kanila?” Binay asked.
(They said they had work permits. I want to ask first of all, is it true that they had work permits? And if they do, what kind of work permits were issued to them?)
To this, Bello said the labor department does not issue work permits to foreign doctors as there are enough medical practitioners in the Philippines.
“Wala pong work permit ang mga 'yon (They don't have work permits). We don’t issue alien work permit sa mga doctors na 'yun. Because ang dami nating doctors bakit naman natin bibigyan ng permit ang mga (Because we have plenty of doctors, why are we going to give permits to) foreign doctors. We will only allow a foreign national an AEP (alien employment permit) if there is no Filipino who could do the work,” Bello said.
Binay then said this was why she was wondering how the Chinese doctors were let go. The PNP earlier said they could not arrest Chinese doctors as they have work permits.
She said there should be an investigation on the kind of work permits issued for the Chinese doctors.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who both served as a labor secretary and a justice chief in previous administrations, quickly dismissed the right of any foreign doctor to practice his profession in the country.
“You cannot practice medicine in the Philippines if you are a foreigner. So whether or not they have a permit is immaterial. They cannot practice medicine,” Drilon said.
Unauthorized Chinese clinics were shut down in different parts of the Philippines last month.
At least four facilities were raided on allegations they were accepting and treating patients, two of which were caught with COVID-19 testing kits and medicine.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include full quotes and add context.