Former Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday urged the government to immediately release the long-delayed benefits for nurses and other health workers.
Binay made the appeal following reports of mass resignations of nurses and medical workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Binay, who joined the senatorial race for the May 2022 national elections, also batted for decent wages and job security for nurses as a long-term solution to the continuing departures of nurses and health workers for higher-paying jobs abroad even during the pandemic.
This would make overseas employment “a personal choice rather than a necessity,” he said.
“I am certain that given wages and benefits commensurate with their skills and education, our nurses and other health care workers will choose to stay home,” he added.
Meanwhile, health workers from Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRRMMC) pressed senators to scrutinize and increase the 2022 Department of Health budget and prioritize the health of the people above all.
During a protest rally, they also demanded the immediate release of their withheld and unpaid COVID-19 benefits such as the meal, accommodation and transportation allowance (MAT), special risk allowance (SRA), and active hazard duty pay (AHDP).
“Today, the Senate Committee on Finance headed by Senator Pia Cayetano will hold its second briefing on the 2022 proposed budget of the DOH.
We urge the honorable senators to scrutinize the DOH budget and prioritize the health and safety of health workers and the people,” said Cristy Donguines, President, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Union-Alliance of Health Workers.
Administrators of various hospitals expressed concern over the continued resignations after the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte failed to give them their benefits.
Hospitals in seven regions have also reported high occupancy rates.
Binay warned that unless immediately addressed, the shortage in nurses could turn critical in the coming months.
“In the event of another surge, its effects on our health care system could be disastrous,” he said.
Binay said the government should immediately release the long-delayed benefits provided by the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws for nurses and other health care workers.
Groups of health workers have complained they have yet to receive these benefits.
The former vice president also expressed support for legislative measures that would provide them additional allowances and benefits retroactively for the duration of the pandemic.
These include added hazard pay, insurance coverage, compensation should they get sick from COVID-19, and indemnification for their families in case of death as a result of COVID contracted from work.
“We have been providing other countries with nurses and other health workers, and now we are suffering from their absence,” he said.
Donguines also said: “We hope that the senators will listen to the plight of the health workers and the people whose livelihoods have been ruined and their health and safety at risk due to COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of budget deliberation and the upcoming election, the political ambitions and aggrandizements should be set aside.”
While politicians and lawmakers themselves are vying for power and benefits they can get from the 2022 national budget, many health workers and Filipino people were infected with coronavirus disease 2019, and many have died, she noted.
However, the budget allotted by the Duterte administration for COVID-19 response for the year 2022 is only P16.45 billion. This means, Donguines noted, that all COVID medical supplies like personal protective gear and medicines will be charged to the patient.
“This government doesn’t seem to care that as of October 12, 2021, the Philippines ranks seventh in the global COVID-19 cases,” she said.
As of October 19, 2021, the total number of COVID-19 active cases are 63,637, with 496 new cases, 211 new deaths, and 40,972 total number of COVID-19 deaths.
Allocated funds for the 2022 COVID-19 response are meager while the threat of the deadly disease is extensive and dangerous.
“Moreover, until now the 70% of our much-deserved meal, accommodation and transportation allowance is not yet released by the DOH,” Donguines said.
Likewise, she said many fellow health workers in the DOH hospitals, private and LGU hospitals have not tasted their MAT benefits, SRA and AHDP because to date DOH has not provided them until now.
“DOH kept on saying that they have already released these benefits, but where is it now,” asked Donguines as she called on Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and DOH officials “to stop deceiving the health workers and the public.”
“Enough of your lies and incompetence,” Donguines stated.
Health workers expressed their anger because “there is NO allotted budget” for their COVID-19 benefits in the 2022 proposed health budget.
Furthermore, contractualization among ranks of the health workers continues.
Amid the pandemic, there are about 14,241 vacant positions but the government continues to exploit the health workers by hiring 16,591 health workers on contractual basis either as Job Orders (JO) or Contract-of-Service (COS).
“We are outraged because when it comes to health, protection, safety, and welfare of health workers and the people, the allocated budget is very inadequate. And yet, we found out that a huge amount worth P42.7B was discovered in the DOH-PS DBM-Pharmally as COVID-19 anomaly,” the group said.
“It is clear that the Duterte administration has no intention of suppressing the pandemic but rather making it even worse,” they lamented.