MANILA, Philippines — Catholic bishops have called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to lift a flight ban on Filipino health workers so that they can work abroad and provide for their families.

Duterte banned health professionals from leaving the Philippines in April due to a “scarcity” of health workers in the country, reported

But Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga and retired Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said the ban on doctors, nurses and medical staff added to the suffering of their families, whose sources of income have been depleted due to mass layoffs.

“These OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) are the breadwinners of their families. They also spent huge amounts of money for their training and schooling. … Now, they cannot earn for their families,” Bastes said in a statement.

He said the flight ban may have been necessary before, but this was not the case now because conditions had changed.

“When the pandemic started, we did not know how to proceed. But now it’s clear that the problem is not a lack of health workers, it’s a lack of medical facilities and equipment. We need more hospital beds and ventilators, rather than doctors and nurses,” said Bishop Bastes.

The travel restriction is “unreasonable” and “uncharitable” for the children of overseas workers, he said.

More than 2.8 million Filipino workers have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, 8,000 to 10,000 overseas workers were being laid off each month by foreign companies due to the COVID-19 fallout, said Assistant Labor Secretary Dominique Tutay.

Santos said preventing qualified health workers leaving the country contributed to the number of unemployed professionals.

“To provide what they need and to promote better working conditions are the answers. To prohibit them from leaving the country despite having job offers means adding to the number of jobless Filipinos,” the bishop said.