MANILA, Sept 2 (Mabuhay) — Malacañang on Tuesday said it respects the opinion of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. that the government cannot hold hostage nurses who want to work abroad instead of the Philippines amid the prevailing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the remark after Locsin, who has been vocal on his stand against the deployment ban, said the government should pay them the amount they would have earned abroad if not for the ban.

“Okay lang po ‘yan (That’s okay) because the President encourages naman free thought even amongst the Cabinet secretaries, especially on matters that do not fall within their primary jurisdiction,” Roque said in a virtual Palace briefing.

He explained that the primary reason for the deployment ban was to ensure the health and safety of nurses since Covid-19 cases in the Philippines are relatively lower than those abroad.

According to the latest data of the Department of Health, the country has 220,819 confirmed Covid-19 infections with 157,559 recoveries and 3,563 deaths.

“It is to protect the health and lives of our front-liners, primarily. Secondary po yung our own need for nurses and medical professionals in this country (The need for nurses and medical professionals in the country is only secondary),” he said.

Meanwhile, Roque said he does not see the lifting of the deployment ban on nurses soon.

“Wala po siguro. Napag-usapan po ‘yan sa IATF (I don’t think the deployment ban would be lifted yet. This was discussed by the IATF) and we all concurred with the opinion of the President except for Secretary Locsin,” he said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

In an interview over CNN’s The Source on August 28, Locsin pledged to fight for the plight of health care workers even if he had conflicting views with the IATF.

He said nurses and other health care workers should be paid “big money” if the government wants them to work in their homeland.

“I said, in that case, pay for it. I don’t mean pay peanuts for it, I mean pay big money if you want (to) keep them in reserve. (We) cannot hold a section of our population hostage for that eventuality,” Locsin said.

He noted that it is unconstitutional to deny nurses of their right to earn a living overseas.

“They earn peanuts in our lousy medical system and they are well treated and respected abroad, which is what every person needs,” he said.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) earlier issued Resolution 09, temporarily suspending the deployment of all health care workers “until the national state of emergency is lifted.”

Only health care workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8 may work abroad.

The IATIF-EID also released Resolution 64 temporarily suspending the deployment of medical professionals.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said the ban would be reviewed by members of the IATF.  (MNS)

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