Valid grievances

posted February 03, 2021 at 12:20 am
by  Ernesto M. Hilario
"The government’s response to the plight of healthcare workers has been deemed ‘extremely slow, numb and deaf.’"


With more than half a million Filipinos already infected and nearly 11,000 dead, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exact a heavy toll on the nation. And even as we await the delivery of precious vaccines from abroad, the contagion is not expected to subside but even worsen with the discovery of a new virus strain that could further wreak havoc on our already overburdened healthcare system.

Our doctors, nurses, medical technologists and support staff all deserve commendation for doing everything humanly possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent more deaths.

But our medical frontliners have also found themselves victims of the same disease they have been trying to control.

Thus far, according to the Department of Health, some 14,393 medical workers have contracted the virus, with 83 fatalities and 303 active cases at present.

That’s not all that they have to contend with.

The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) laments that there has been no significant change in their working conditions since last year. They described the government’s response to their plight as “extremely slow, numb and deaf.”

“Nothing has changed in our situation,” according to the group. Many health workers in the regions lack protective gear, public hospitals and health centers are understaffed so that health workers are compelled to work long hours. They also get low wages and suffer delays in the payment of hard-earned benefits such as actual hazard duty pay and special risk allowances. Others have had to grapple with discrimination and even violence.

Medical workers are also up in arms over the Duterte administration’s move to halt their deployment abroad. And while the rule has since been relaxed, there’s still the cap of only 5,000 medical personnel allowed to leave the country to seek better working conditions and much higher wages abroad.

“If the DOH and the Duterte administration are really sincere in (protecting) our well-being, they should not make it difficult for us to get the benefits we deserve,” according to the AHW.

The group also criticized the government’s pronouncement that the public should “not be picky” when the vaccines are made available. Health workers are supposed to be on top of the government’s priority list for vaccination.

Many health workers are saying that they will not present themselves to be vaccinated until there is proof that the government can ensure their safety. What they want is a vaccine that is safe, with a high efficacy rate, and at a reasonable price, if not free, for everyone. This should be done alongside massive testing, contact tracing and proper isolation.

An independent think tank has placed the Philippines in the 79th rank out of 100 nations in their pandemic response, making it one of Asia- Pacific’s underperformers.

We have, as of end-January 2021, the second-highest number of infections in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia’s over a million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths.

“A year has passed, but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the COVID-19 issue remains,” the AHW said. “To date, the government has not had a clear comprehensive plan on how to fight COVID-19. Health workers evaluated the DOH and Duterte administration’s one-year performance in handling COVID-19 pandemic as inefficient, negligent and a failure,” the group added.

Double standard

The very rich are different from you and me. That’s what the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have said once to Ernest Hemingway, who replied, “Yes. They’ve got more money.”

But not only do the rich have more money, they wield much more influence than you and me, because they can even tip the scales of justice in their favor.

Take the case of the recent birthday bash of a celebrity held in Baguio City attended by fellow celebrities and even by the city mayor and his wife.

Those who attended the bash were said to have violated health and safety protocols on the mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing, with the city mayor admitting that lapses did occur during the event, and promptly handed in his irrevocable resignation as contact tracing zar. The guests were fined P1,500 each for violations of health protocols.

The lenient treatment by government of the guests in the Baguio City bash stands in stark comparison to what happened last year in Caloocan City, where six jeepney drivers who said they were going hungry and protesting the loss of income from the draconian lockdown in Metro Manila last year were promptly arrested by police supposedly for not wearing face masks and observing social distancing—the very same violations by those in the Baguio birthday bash. The poor jeepney drivers had to pay P10,000 bail for their provisional release from jail; last we checked, they still face criminal charges in court.

It’s this double standard of justice in our country—one for the rich and another for the poor—that breeds resentment and for that matter, protests and rebellion.

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , COVID-19 pandemic , Department of Health , DOH , Alliance of Health Workers
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