In the 1960s, medical services were not as widely accessible as they are today in the Philippines. In Cavite province on the southern shores of Manila Bay where Dr Jose Cueto Jr was born and raised, ‘We didn’t have a complete line up of specialists.’ Cueto came from a family of teachers and was in his second year in the seminary, when he decided to fulfil his calling to serve through the world of medicine instead. ‘I wanted to help’.

Dr Cueto currently serves as the head of the Professional Regulation Commission of the Philippines, and with four clusters of professions under his purview including medical professionals, he has been a passionate proponent of the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRAs). MRAs in services aim to facilitate the mobility of skilled labour across ASEAN through the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

‘Mobility is very important in ensuring the free flow of services under the ASEAN Economic Community’,
Cueto said.

Currently ASEAN Member States have formalised mutual recognition in eight professions: architectural services; surveying; medicine; dentistry; engineering; nursing; accounting; and tourism.

However, practical implementation of the MRAs has remained limited, especially in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam. According to Cueto, one of the main challenges has been in harmonising regulations and standards in all ten ASEAN Member States, ‘especially for allowing doctors to interact directly with patients’, he said.

Cooperation between the EU and ASEAN on the issue of safe migration dates back to 2015. Facilitated by the Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI), the first EU-ASEAN Dialogue on Safe Labour Migration and Mobility was held in 2018, in conjunction with the launch of the ASEAN Safe Migration Campaign. The dialogue provided a platform for the EU and ASEAN to exchange views and best practices on issues related to labour mobility, access to and portability of social security for migrant workers, and responsible business practices that contribute to safe labour migration.

One of the dialogue’s key outputs is an ASEAN-wide comparative study titled ‘Comparative study on laws and policies pertaining to the management of migrant workers, including occupations under the eight MRAs in ASEAN’. Launched in November 2019, the study identified differences in laws and policies in managing the entry, stay and exit of foreign workers within ASEAN Member States.

In Cueto’s experience, for medical practitioners, the concept of mobility means the ability to travel within the ASEAN region in the following capacities: medical practice; expert visit; education training; research; and humanitarian missions.

However, despite having the MRAs in place since 2009, ‘it is still difficult to determine how many ASEAN medical practitioners are benefitting from the MRA mechanism or are even aware of the recognition and eligibility requirements’, Cueto said. ‘Unlike the architectural sector, we don’t have an ASEAN registry for medical practitioners.’

A series of education materials on safe and fair migration are currently being prepared to be launched during the 2nd EU-ASEAN Dialogue on Safe and Fair Migration in 2021.

‘Increasing the knowledge of safe migration among migrant workers are just as important as strengthening our regional framework’,
Cueto said.

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