"Treating human beings as commodities in exchange for goods is never a good policy."
In an attempt to walk back their disastrous idea of trading our nurses for 600,000 doses of vaccines, one labor official suggested that the intention was simply to get the vaccines here where we will do the vaccinations ourselves before allowing the nurses to leave the country.
He should tell that to the marines. It is too late. The damage has already been done even if the original intention was not to trade in humans. It is obvious that whoever thought of this scheme was unaware of the extreme sensitivity of this issue to European Union countries especially the two countries selected. Germany and the United Kingdom together with France are major voices when it comes to championing human rights among the 27 countries of the European Union.
Treating human beings as commodities in exchange for goods is never a good policy. It does not only cheapen us as a people but also shows what kind of country we are. The UK ambassador predictably shot the proposal down and Germany did not even bother to comment. I do not think any country would want to be perceived as trading in human beings because that is what the proposal came to be understood by everyone. In these kinds of situations, it is always more advisable to simply negotiate with both countries rather than be mercenary. For one, are we really that poor that we cannot buy the needed COVID-19 vaccines for Filipinos? Look at Afghanistan, a country much poorer than us which has been at war for decades. It has already started vaccinating frontline workers way ahead of us.
In addition, limiting the deployment of health workers to 5,000 a year also infringes on the right of citizens to travel. Keeping them here and paying them destitution wages is also bad economics. If allowed to work overseas, they can bring their families with them and send back money to those family members left behind. The government therefore will have less headaches; it does not have to educate their children or have to support the elderly family members left behind. Another further reason is that there are not enough jobs for all the nurses left behind. We all want to improve our status in life. So, anyone who wants to travel abroad to work to improve his or her economic wellbeing should be allowed without any limitation. That is the reason that these people took up nursing in the first place.
Why should the government hinder people from fulfilling their cherished dreams? Forcibly keeping them here is therefore tantamount to a prison sentence and grossly unfair. Since we have the funds, we should be hustling and scrambling harder instead of offering to barter our health workers. It is simply in poor taste.
We all know that the export of our nurses is just part of a much bigger problem that started much earlier. This is the policy of exporting our people to work overseas so that they can send back much needed foreign currency needs to be reviewed by the government for the purpose of eventually phasing it out. Yes, our workers send a lot of money but at what cost? Broken families, family members left behind turning to crime and drugs, domestic helpers getting maltreated and killed are just part of the many stories we often read in the papers. It is the problem encountered by our domestic workers, however, that should concern us the most. This is because of the difficulty of monitoring compliance to their signed labor contracts.
We should start phasing out the sending of domestic helpers. The sooner the better. We can start this by stopping the deployment of new domestic helpers to the middle east and no longer renew those whose contracts are about to expire. The simple rule of thumb that we should use is never to send our women to countries to work as domestic helpers if those countries treat their own women as second-class citizens or if the women in those countries do not have rights themselves.
We should just concentrate on allowing our professionals, construction workers, seafarers and other technical people to work overseas. They are easier to monitor. After all, we are now classified as a middle-income country about to graduate to a higher category. This means that we are no longer that poor. We should build on this and stop making it appear that we are so poor. Eventually, we should get to the stage when our women will no longer go overseas to work as indentured servants.
It looks, however, that instead of a phaseout, we are signing new labor agreements so that we can send more of our women to work in the Middle East. It’s sad.