Villanueva hits DOLE’s ‘nurses-for-vaccines’ bid: OFWs not for barter
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Joel Villanueva is not liking the kind of trade the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is promoting to secure Covid-19 vaccines for the Filipino people.
Villanueva on Wednesday registered his opposition to DOLE’s offer to deploy more Filipino nurses to the United Kingdom and Germany in exchange for vaccines that these two countries should give to the Philippines.
“OFW (overseas Filipino workers) deployment is not a barter trade. We simply do not swap people for products,” Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor, said in a statement.
“Pero ang malaking katanungan po ay paano tayo humantong sa ganitong sitwasyon? Clearly, it is out of desperation that forced otherwise good people to be more creative in finding vaccines for their country. Theirs is a ‘kapit sa patalim’ move,” he added.
DOLE is requesting the UK and Germany to provide the Philippines with Covid-19 vaccines in exchange for their exemption from the 5,000 per year limit on the deployment of Filipino nurses and other health care workers.
Villanueva questioned DOLE’s approach but he also saw where the government agency was coming from for making such a request.
“Kung ginawa lang po sana ng IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) ang kanilang tungkulin, hindi sana mapipilitan ang DOLE na dumiskarte,” the senator said.
“They were thrown in that situation because some people dropped the ball. I have very high respect for Sec Bello. He’s been very helpful not only to our committee hearings but his record shows how he walked the extra mile during this pandemic,” he added.
‘Sign of desperation’?
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also questioned DOLE’s offer, saying this “palit-bakuna” initiative “is a wrong policy and sets a bad precedent.”
“It’s a sign of desperation. Ganito na ba tayo kadesperado?” Drilon, a former labor secretary, said in a separate statement. “Our health care workers are not commodities they can trade-off.”
After receiving flak for asking for a “nurses-for-vaccine” plan with the UK and Germany, DOLE clarified that Bello’s request was only meant to ensure that health workers who will be sent to the two countries are already vaccinated against Covid-19 before deployment.
Labor Information and Publication Service director Rolly Francia, in an online media forum on Wednesday afternoon, said DOLE does not intend to treat Filipino healthcare workers as commodities to swap for Covid-19 vaccines.
The Duterte administration’s mass vaccination program against the new coronavirus was supposed to start in mid-February with the arrival of 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine through the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility. However, the delivery has been delayed because indemnification documents still have to be finalized.
The Philippines has already “locked-in” 108 million doses of vaccines but only through “term sheets” with different vaccine manufacturers.
The government has yet to sign a supply agreement with any vaccine maker but will likely ink deals with three firms by the end of February.
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