Occupational licensing ensures the professionalization of practitioners performing essential services for the public. National crises, such as natural disasters and pandemics, warrant the suspension of the process of conducting board exams and granting licenses to prioritize the delivery of emergency services.
Last June, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he will propose the abolition of licensure exams for professionals such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, nurses and engineers. He considers board exams as superfluous, given the years of study and numerous tests undergone by a graduate.
Critics of Bello’s proposal include Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, and Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan).
Leonen, bar exams head, confirmed that the Supreme Court is in “full throttle” for the conduct of the 2020/2021 Bar exams during the coming four Sundays of November.
Chief Justice Gesmundo turned down the Bello proposal, saying that the public service performed by lawyers requires aspirants to pass state-determined standards for competence.
In 2020, Bar exams were not held due to the pandemic. The SC will implement innovations, such as digital mode and localized testing, to ensure that the Bar exams will be safe.
To make a short-term emergency response, many countries suspended occupational licensing and activated laws that responded to the need for deployed health care professionals and even volunteers to boost medical frontliners, such as nurses’ aides.
National disasters also justify lifting licensing requirements for critical professions in health care and infrastructure, among others.
The long-term importance of upholding the health, safety and welfare of the public still justifies occupational licensing, which entails considerable costs for both the State and the individual but which promotes the public good in the long run.
Defensor cited the tactical importance of licensure for employment, particularly for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
In a July 25 press statement, Defensor said that as a “huge labor-exporting country,” next to India, China and Mexico, the Philippines relies on OFWs’ remittances to keep the economy afloat.
Defensor said that occupational licensing enhances the competitiveness of Filipinos in the ongoing global liberalization. He pointed out that having a valid Philippine license gives a Filipino worker access to the regional trade opened among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Given clear indicators that the pandemic will remain protracted, why are the government and other stakeholders, such as the academe and the private sector, not yet planning to wean the country and its OFWs from overseas deployment?
The pandemic provides opportunities for many OFWs as frontline medical workers serving as the backbone for many countries’ health care systems fighting coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
However, the significant contributions of Filipino nurses, nurses’ aides and other health professionals to other countries’ Covid-19 fight starkly contrast with the challenges hurdled by medical frontliners in the treatment, testing and vaccination campaigns in the country.
In Feb. 2021, Bello clarified that he had not bargained with Germany and United Kingdom officials to exchange the deployment of Filipino nurses to these countries for Covid-19 vaccines for the Philippines.
In 2019, Bello announced that the Department of Labor and Employment will reduce by 90 percent the deployment of Filipinos to other countries. Highly skilled Filipinos are needed to implement the country’s “Build, Build, Build” program, said the labor secretary.
Confused priorities and policies affecting Filipino workers reveal the vulnerabilities of the country not just to a pandemic but also a remittance-dependent economy.