Malacañang on Tuesday hit back at a group of health workers criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s COVID-19 response, saying they were in the minority.
“I don't know what planet they're on, the health workers who don't like the President,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
"The whole world is experiencing this problem. We're not the only ones in the third wave; the Delta variant is widespread,” he added.
In related developments:
• Roque, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, and San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora are facing a complaint of violating quarantine rules before the Office of the Ombudsman.
BenCyrus Ellorin, convenor of Aksyon Pinoy, a non-profit organization and think tank, on Tuesday led the filing of eight cases against government officials for various violations of COVID-19 response protocols.
• The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said on Tuesday the reported P14 billion the Department of Health (DOH) claimed to have disbursed to pay the delayed health workers’ benefits was “grossly inadequate and just enough to pay about 21 percent of deserving health workers.”
Roque was responding to the statement of Medical Action Group (MAG) chairperson Dr. Nemuel Fajutagana, who said the President and his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, have no right to run for national posts in the May 2022 polls.
This was considering that the Duterte administration's pandemic response has been marred by issues such as the misuse and underutilization of funds, the snail-paced vaccination rate, and the delayed release of health workers’ special risk allowances, Fajutagana said.
Roque said that the MAG is a small group and that health workers are largely in favor of the President’s COVID-19 response.
“They are a small group. They are entitled to their opinion, but other medical health workers are thankful that they are receiving benefits due them and our recognition of the tough situation our health workers are in amid the pandemic,” Roque added.
Meanwhile, apart from Roque, Romulo-Puyat and Zamora, also facing charges are retired Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas, Antique Gov. Rhodora Cadiao, Bukidnon Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri, Abra Gov. Maria Jocelyn Bernas, and mayors Gerry Natanuan of Talisay in Batangas, Dino Reyes Chua of Noveleta, Cavite, Rolen Paulino Jr. of Olongapo City in Pampanga, and Ernesto Escutin of Dao in Capiz.
Aksyon Pinoy cited them all for violation of Republic Act 11468 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and for supposedly spreading false information amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a Zoom media briefing, Ellorin said: “It is high time that we should hold our public officials liable for violating the health protocols.”
“At least make our legal system work against impunity in whatever forms,” he added.
While the ordinary Filipino people could be apprehended or fined for not wearing a face mask and a face shield, public officials have been spared from such sanctions, Ellorin lamented.
“There was an incident when an ordinary violator is shot in a checkpoint,” he said.
Ellorin accused Roque of violating quarantine restrictions on non-essential travel when he went to Subic to “swim with dolphins” in July 2020, dive in Boracay Island in February 2021 and conduct a public meeting without observing social distancing in Bantayan, Cebu in November 2020.
Romulo-Puyat violated the quarantine protocols when she took along her six-year-old daughter on a trip to Bohol despite a ban on children and minors from travelling in June 2021, he alleged.
Ellorin said Facebook photographs on the trip showed the child roaming around without a face shield and a face mask.
“While we were told to stay home only, Roque, Puyat and Zamora went on strolling and strolling,” he stressed.
Zamora violated the quarantine protocols in Baguio City in June 2020, and that his father, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, violated the Food and Drugs Administration Circular no. 2020-036 or the Guidelines on the issuance of emergency use authorization for drugs and vaccines for getting inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, way ahead of the government’s vaccine roll-out, Ellorin said.
Sinas was implicated when police officers held a supposed birthday bash for him in November 2020, but the Department of Interior and Local Government maintained that the occasion was just the traditional Mañanita dawn serenade.
Meanwhile, the FNU said the DOH’s declared number of health workers who benefited from the first tranche of SRA payments from September 15 to December 19, 2020 is only 21 percent of total health workers for active hazard duty pay, 17 percent for SRA, and only 5.7 percent for meals, accommodation and transportation (MAT) allowance.
In the second SRA tranche, from December 20, 2020 to June 30, 2021, only 21 percent of total health workers received SRA and only 1.8 percent received the life insurance,” FNU added in a statement.
“The DOH’s lack of genuine concern for the health workers is even glaring in its proposed P242.2 billion budget for 2022, where only P19.6 billion is allotted for COVID-19 response with no specific funds for health workers’ benefits,” it said.
According to Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, a total of P160.97 billion was released by the Department of Budget and Management to DOH for the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 as of June 30, 2021.
“Therefore, the P19.6 billion DOH allotted budget for COVID-19 response for 2022 is not enough,” the nurses’ group said. “In fact, there is still a number of COVID-infected health workers who have not yet received the promised COVID compensation.”
Thousands of other nurses and health workers in private and LGU hospitals, as well as those assigned in rural health units and facilities under the DOH Human Resources for Health (HRH), have not received their SRA and other benefits, FNU noted.