AUGUST 3, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo has created a task force to support the speedy establishment of a National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) testing center in the Philippines so Filipino nursing graduates will no longer have to leave the country to take this qualifying examination.

Under Executive Order No. 550 dated July 31, Mrs. Arroyo allotted P10 million for the task force, which will be taken from the President’s Social Fund in support of projects, programs and activities related to its functions.

The NCLEX is a standardized examination which the United States’ National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) uses to determine whether or not a candidate is prepared for entry-level nursing practice in the US.

The NCSBN has authorized the conduct of the NCLEX in Hong Kong, London and Seoul, South Korea in 2004. It also established additional test centers in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico and Taiwan this year.

The NCSBN officers visited the Philippines in March to assess the feasibility of establishing an NCLEX testing center here.

In issuing the EO titled "creating a presidential task force to address concerns arising from the conduct" of NCLEX for nurses in the Philippines, Mrs. Arroyo cited the need for a testing center here.

The President said that the Philippines is the top country of origin of foreign-educated nurses taking the NCLEX, many of whom encounter financial hardship due to the cost of taking qualifying examinations overseas.

"Filipino nurses constitute 83 percent of foreign-educated nurses practicing in the US and contribute positively to the good image of the Philippines through their hard work, dedication and ethic of care," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The conduct of NCLEX in the Philippines will open opportunities for qualified yet less fortunate Filipino nurses to take the NCLEX locally and the savings from not having to travel abroad to take the said exam may be devoted to test preparation," she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said the "government fully supports the establishment of an NCLEX test center in the Philippines and is prepared to provide assistance in terms of physical and examination security, as well as intellectual property protection through its agencies."

Under the EO, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, through its chairman, shall be the lead agency in the NCLEX task force that will be supported by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), Philippine National Police (PNP), Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA).

The task force will prepare an overall program to consolidate existing government mechanisms and ensure the protection of intellectual property rights and the security of the physical facilities of NCLEX testing centers in the Philippines, the EO read.

It added that the task force will evaluate current procedures in resolving cases involving Filipino nurses and foreign nursing regulatory entities and recommend the proper measures to enhance existing grievance mechanisms.

The task force will also coordinate and liaise with the NCSBN on matters concerning the conduct of the NCLEX in the Philippines and investigate and take specific action on reports of fraud or any related acts that may compromise the integrity of the examinations.

The task force will also conduct consultations and information campaigns among nursing associations and other stakeholders in the field of nursing to assist in preserving the integrity of local and foreign nursing licensure examinations, as referred to by NCSBN.

It will also perform other functions that will ensure the smooth and successful conduct of NCLEX in the Philippines.

Cabinet officials get hearing guidelines By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 08/03/2006

Malacañang has issued the guidelines for the appearance of department heads and other officials of the executive branch at congressional inquiries, particularly in hearings on the repatriation of Filipinos in war-torn Lebanon.

The guidelines, contained in Memorandum Circular No. 108 issued on July 27 by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita as authorized by President Arroyo, specify when officials may appear before a congressional inquiry and which questions they may refuse to answer.

This was two days before Ermita declined a Senate invitation for him and officials of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) as well as the labor and foreign affairs departments to brief the Senate on ongoing efforts to bring home Filipinos from Lebanon.

The senators also wanted to inquire on the status of government funds allotted for the repatriation.

The failure of officials from the executive branch to attend the hearing prompted the legislators to threaten them with arrest for contempt.

In the circular, Ermita said there is a need to lay down guidelines for the appearance of department heads and other officials of the executive branch before Congress "to protect the rights of officials appearing therein, ensure the security of confidential information vital to national interest and uphold the constitutional principle of separation of powers."

The guidelines were based on the Supreme Court decision, which laid down certain rules and guidelines on the appearance of executive officials before Congress.

Under the new circular, all heads of departments of the executive branch shall secure the consent of Mrs. Arroyo prior to appearing at the "Question Hour" in Congress.

"When the security of the State or the public’s interest so requires and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall only be conducted in the executive session," it added.

Executive officials should also request Congress for information on the statute, which prompted the need for the inquiry, the subject matter and the questions relative to it, upon the receipt of the request for appearance before either house of Congress.

After obtaining such information, the official shall forward the request and all pertinent documents, together with a brief background and recommendation, to the President through the executive secretary.

The President shall consider whether the subject of the inquiry is in aid of legislation or it falls within the scope of executive privilege. She should also be given a reasonable time of about 15 days prior to the requested appearance of the official in Congress.

"In appearing before either House of Congress, the official shall, at all times, be represented or accompanied by a counsel," the circular read.

It is further stated that officials have the right not to answer the following questions: Those which contain arguments, those which include offensive or unparliamentary language or expressions; those which pertain to matters sub judice; those which refer to internal affairs of a foreign country or contain unwarranted discourtesy to it and those which seek an opinion on a question of law, those which relate to matters falling within the responsibility of another department head.

The new circular also said the following may not be disclosed during inquiries in aid of legislation: conversations and correspondence between the President and other persons on matters of privilege; state secrets, including military, diplomatic and other national security matters which in the interest of national security should not be divulged; and information between inter-government agencies prior to the conclusion of treaties and executive agreements.

In the same manner, discussions in closed-door Cabinet meetings as well as internal deliberations of government officials comprising part of a process by which government decisions are made or policies are formulated and matters affecting national security and public order cannot be divulged by officials.

Ermita said the executive branch does not intend to have another row with Congress with the release of the circular but only wants to ensure that the rights of executive officials are respected during inquiries and that the hearings are really meant to aid legislation.

"Our appeal is that we hope the legislators will understand that we are facing a crisis and it would be best for us to be able to work without too much distraction. We we’re just going by the Supreme Court decision. With that, I would wish to rest my statement. We don’t want conflict with anybody," Ermita said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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