MANILA — The Philippines may let more of its health workers go abroad for better-paying jobs "in due course," Malacañang said Monday, after President Rodrigo Duterte ended an overseas deployment ban for medical frontliners in the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte over the weekend allowed only 5,000 healthcare workers to leave every year, to ensure that the Philippines would have enough medical professionals to continue to fight the pandemic at home.
This figure is based on the labor department's estimate of health workers who want and can go abroad, said the President's spokesman Harry Roque.
"Pupuwede naman pong pataasin ang number n'yan in due course," he told reporter.
(That number can be raised in due course.)
"Hindi naman po madaling umalis, lalo na kung gusto n'yong pumunta sa lugar gaya ng Amerika. Napakatagal po ng proseso d'yan," he added.
(Anyway, it is not easy to leave, especially if you want to go to a place like America. That is a very long process.)
The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, but daily case numbers and death rates have dropped.
Last year, almost 17,000 nurses signed overseas work contracts, data from the Commission on Higher Education and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed.
The government in April barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to fight the coronavirus crisis at home.
Thousands of health workers, who call themselves "priso-nurses," had appealed to the government to let them take jobs abroad, Reuters reported in September. The nurses say they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and unprotected in the Philippines.
While the lifting of the travel ban was a "welcome development," Maristela Abenojar, President of Filipino Nurses United, challenged the government to make true its commitment to give its nurses better pay and benefits if it wants them to stay.
Filipino health workers are on the front lines of the pandemic at hospitals in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East as well as at home.
New coronavirus cases in the Philippines have remained below 2,000 since Nov. 10, while deaths, which totaled 8,025 as of Nov. 20 only equal 1.93 percent of the country's 415,067 cases.
Hospital bed occupancy has also eased from critical levels, and the government has been gradually easing quarantine restrictions to jumpstart the coronavirus-hit economy.
- With a report from Reuters