LIFTING OF THE TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF DEPLOYMENT OF FILIPINO HEALTH CARE WORKERS ABROAD
By: Atty. Cindy T. Climaco
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (“POEA”) issued Governing Board Resolution No. 09 Series of 2020 (Resolution) on 02 April 2020 which temporarily suspended the deployment of health care workers abroad until the national state of emergency is lifted and until COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted.
The Resolution was made in support of the national objective of controlling the spread of COVID-19 through the regulation in the deployment of Filipino health care workers through the mission critical skill (MCS) framework and to prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system at the time of the national state of emergency.
Accordingly, the following health care workers are included in the temporary suspension of deployment:
- Medical Doctor/Physician;
- Molecular biologist;
- Medical technologist;
- Clinical analyst;
- Respiratory therapist;
- Laboratory technician;
- X-ray/Radio technician;
- Nursing assistant/nursing aid;
- Operator of medical equipment;
- Supervisor of health services and personal care; and
- Repairman of medical-hospital equipment.
The Resolution, however, came under fire when some Filipino nurses were stopped at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from boarding their flights back to their contracted jobs in the United Kingdom supposedly due to the deployment ban. The Resolution was specifically criticized as violative of the constitutional guaranty of right to travel and of inviolability/non-impairment of contracts and for being punitive ex-post-facto resolution.
Legal Issues Involved
To somehow shed light on the legal issues involved and their impact on the assailed Resolution, it must be noted that:
The right to travel is part of the liberty of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law and only on clear and compelling grounds of national security, public health and public safety as mandated by the Constitution.
The purpose of the non-impairment clause of the Constitution, on the other hand, is to safeguard the integrity of contracts against unwarranted interference by the State. As a rule, contracts should not be tampered with by subsequent laws that would change or modify the rights and obligations of the parties. This rule on inviolability of contracts may be set aside if the objective is to promote the health, morals, peace, education, good order, safety, and the general welfare of the people.
An ex post facto law, meanwhile, makes illegal an act that was legal when committed, increases the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed, or changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. The Philippine Constitution prohibits the making of ex post facto law.
It must be emphasized that as of the moment, there is no clear-cut declaration coming from the government that expressly acknowledges the so called compelling or justifying grounds that would warrant the relaxation of the observance right to travel and non-impairment of contracts as to support the unqualified POEA Resolution imposing a travel ban on the deployment of health workers abroad.
Heeding the legal issues raised against the Resolution, it is a sigh of relief that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging and Infectious Disease on 13 April 2020 had recommended to the President the lifting of the POEA’s temporary ban on the deployment of Filipino health care workers abroad. Hence, in the following announcement made by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, it was clarified that health care workers with signed overseas employment contracts as of 08 March 2020 shall be allowed to leave the Philippines or shall be exempt from the temporary ban. In sum, as of this posting, all health workers with existing contracts of work abroad can leave and that only future applications for employment abroad by medical workers are suspended until further notice.