President Rodrigo Duterte gave government officials until Tuesday, June 9 to distribute the cash benefits for health workers who died or got infected with COVID-19, Malacanang said Thursday.
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Palace spokesperson Harry Roque made the announcement in a televised public press briefing, warning government officials, particularly from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to give the compensation benefits to health workers who got sick with COVID-19 while in the line of duty, and aid for the families of health workers who died.
Roque said the President issued the directive after he was informed about the delay in the release of the assistance.
“The President is displeased. He’s angry, frustrated and this is the first time I saw him in a temper. This, after the President learned that after three months of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act, it has not yet been given,” Roque said.
Earlier, senators said they were dismayed to learn that the DOH had not carried out the compensation provisions of the law because of the absence of implementation rules.
The DOH has failed to distribute at least P32 million in compensation to the families of front-line health workers who died treating COVID-19 patients.
Under Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, public and private health workers who contract severe COVID-19 infection while in the line of duty will receive a compensation of P100,000 and those who die “while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic” will be compensated with P1 million.
There are currently 32 health workers — four nurses, 26 doctors and two non-medical staff — who died due to COVID-19, the DOH said.
As of Thursday, the DOH said there are 60 health workers who were severely ill with COVID-19 and another 19 who were considered critical cases.
In a statement, the department said the families of the 32 fallen health workers have already been contacted and will each soon receive a P1 million death benefit.
“We are processing the checks and working out the necessary documents they need to submit to avail of the benefits,” the DOH said.
Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III wrote a strongly-worded letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, following up on the release of the benefits.
“A law’s effectivity does not and cannot rely on the IRR’s existence or nonexistence, especially if the provisions of the law is clear and categorical,” Sotto said.
“Assuming [for argument’s sake] that an IRR is indispensable in the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, particularly on the grant of compensation to affected health workers or their families, then what hindered your office to draft and approve the said IRR in the past two months?” he asked.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, said a new provision of the Senate version of a bill extending the validity of the Bayanihan Act requires payment of compensation not later than 90 days after date of confinement or death.
“We are imposing a deadline. Its release should not be at the mercy of red tape,” Recto said.
Recto said under the proposed “Bayanihan Act II,” both the death and sickness compensation shall be exempt from all applicable taxes under the National Internal Revenue Code.
“The taxman should not have a share of the state’s monetary thank you to these heroes,” Recto said.
The DOH said 2,675 health care workers have contracted COVID-19 as of June 2.
The DOH said 1,457 of them have recovered from the respiratory disease, while 32 have died since May 29.
The other 1,186 medical workers are active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine.
Of this number, 988 are mild cases, 197 are asymptomatic, while one is in severe condition.
The five medical professions with the highest number of COVID-19 infections are nurses with 981 cases, doctors with 728, nursing assistants with 175, medical technologists with 109, and radiologic technologists with 55 cases.
Health workers account for 14 percent of the total cases nationwide, a decrease from 15 percent recorded in the past few days.