MANILA: To safeguard Filipinos, especially those seeking to travel to countries with a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, President Rodrigo Duterte said late on Monday that he might stop them from moving abroad for work.
“Maybe two days from now, we’ll have to meet again and consult (Justice) Secretary (Menardo) Guevarra on whether or not it would be legal for us to stop the migration of health workers,” Duterte said.
He added that he would also meet officials from the National Task Force for detailed discussions on the legalities of the issue.
“Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want you to go there and come back in a coffin,” he said, urging people to let him “protect” them and explaining that safeguarding the health of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) was his priority.
Duterte’s address follows an uptick in demand for health care workers abroad, particularly in the US and Europe, where incidents of COVID-19 are increasing by the day. The address came after another move last month in which the government placed a temporary ban on the deployment of doctors, nurses and health care workers abroad, to address a local “shortage” within the country.
A few days later, however, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said that those who had already signed an overseas employment contract, as of March 8 this year, could return to work.
According to Duterte, however, this time the government had more valid reasons to stop the migration of doctors and nurses, citing the threat posed by the virus. Also on Monday, Duterte appealed to local chief executives to allow OFWs to return to their home provinces, provided they underwent the mandatory 14-day quarantine and were declared virus-free.
He was responding to reports that some local government units had refused entry to OFWs for fear that they might be carriers of the disease.
Meanwhile, as an additional confidence-building measure, Malacañang said on Monday that OFWs would no longer have to pay a premium to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation during the crisis, following through on the president’s decision for the payment of premiums to be made voluntary for the workers.