Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday blamed his subordinates for the delay in the release of the financial assistance to health workers stricken with COVID-19.
At a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City, Duque said the delay in the processing of benefits for health workers who died while fighting the outbreak was unacceptable.
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“It is really shameful,” he told the President in Filipino. “They lost their lives and my people act as if there’s no sense of urgency. I really feel so upset, Mr. President.”
Duque said he had instructed his people not to go home until the claims are received by the beneficiaries.
Duterte earlier gave the DOH until June 9 to implement the provision of the Bayanihan law, which mandates a P100,000 benefit for health workers with severe cases of COVID-19 and P1 million for those who died from the disease.
He also suggested that Duque might lose his job.
“If we have to move fast, I will sacrifice you even if you are not really a laggard,” he said.
“There are so many well-intentioned and well-meaning Filipinos, doctors and all, who would want to serve [the] government to contribute to humanity. And we do not have to suffer.”
Also during the briefing, the President directed Duque to form a new team that will manage the distribution of cash assistance to COVID-19-hit health workers.
He said Duque should tap “persons of known honesty” who will “take care of these funds which ought to be in the hands of the intended beneficiaries by this time.”
This was not the first time that Duque blamed his subordinates for his department’s shortcomings.
In the early days of the pandemic, he blamed his subordinates for the slow pace of contact tracing that could have limited the spread of the virus.
During a Senate hearing, senators noted that none of the 32 health workers who had died of COVID-19 had received compensation provided under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The President said it was “totally unacceptable” that the health workers infected with COVID-19 have yet to be compensated.
A critic of Duque, Senator Panfilo Lacson, had two words for him: “Just go.”
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“Many of us are starting to wonder what amulet Secretary Duque has to deserve such special treatment,” Lacson said.
“While I do not and cannot question the presidential prerogative to hire and fire his Cabinet secretaries and other political appointees not protected by the civil service law, it is kind of boring to see Secretary Duque pointing fingers at his subordinates and other people for his pattern of failures in running the DOH–and getting away with it each time.”
“Now, he even blames his inadequacies and neglect on those who have not received the compensation allowances, by claiming that some of them have two wives.”
“Goodness gracious! Mr. Secretary, they are no longer around to defend or explain themselves. Just go,” Lacson said.
But it was President Duterte who apologized to Duque for summoning him to Davao City.
“I am sorry to drag you into this far away province,” Duterte said before their meeting.
The Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier signed the joint administrative order establishing implementing guidelines on the grant of compensation to public and private health workers pursuant to the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”.
On Friday, the DOH, through Health Undersecretaries Gerardo Bayugo and Roger Tong-an, also released the first of 32 checks for the families of health workers who died of COVID-19. The remaining checks are ready for pick-up and delivery to the recipients, and their distribution will be prioritized in the next two days, the DOH said.
Health workers on Friday lambasted Administrative Order No. 26 (AO26) which authorizes the grant of COVID-19 hazard pay for government personnel who physically report for work during the period of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
The grant of COVID-19 benefits should be an added benefit due to the risk of physically working during the time of ECQ, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said.
“AO 26 is deceptive. COVID-19 hazard pay is not an added benefit to health workers who regularly receive hazard pay. According to Section 1 of AO26, whichever is higher meaning a health worker has to choose between Magna Carta of Public Health Workers hazard pay or COVID-19 hazard pay, depending on which is higher in amount between the two benefits upon computation,” said Robert Mendoza, AHW National President, in a statement.
“In the midst of a pandemic and health crisis, where health workers are being put at the forefront of the battle against unseen and deadly disease, the DOH and the Duterte administration have even managed to deceive, divide and insult health workers. The government is not sincere in recognizing the contributions of health workers who are inevitably exposed to health risks and hazards, especially those assigned to disease-infested places which pose occupational risks or perils to life,” said Mendoza.
Also on Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged the DOH to streamline the process of claiming the sickness and death benefits of health workers affected by severe coronavirus disease 2019.
He pointed out that securing the documents required by the DOH would be challenging for many, as quarantine protocols are still in place.
“Many offices that issue the documents are closed, or are operating under shortened hours or run by a skeleton staff,” Recto said in a statement.
“If getting these requires crossing local governments under different quarantine levels and rules, it makes the job harder for grieving families,” he added.