Healthcare workers will get their allowances in cash after the allotment was "repurposed" to other COVID-19-related responses, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire has vowed.
"We were informed that hospitals were unable to use the money for health workers' transportation, meals and accommodation,” Vergeire said during the weekend Laging Handa public briefing.
More than a year into the pandemic, health workers at the forefront in the battle against COVID-19 still lament their low and delayed pay.
Health workers have not received their hazard pay since January this year, their groups said.
Vergeire also said hospitals could not use the budget due to certain rules in the procurement and fund utilization. Other hospitals have been giving the benefits in kind like food and grocery items, leading to criticisms from lawmakers, who said that is not what the law provides.
Because of this, the Department of Health decided to retrieve the allocation.
"We will return it to the quick response fund," Vergeire said, adding that the money should not be put on hold as the year will soon be over.
Vergeire said upon the return of the allowance, the DOH used it for responses related to COVID-19, including the purchase of test kits.
But Malacañang directed the DOH to monetize the free accommodation and meals intended for health workers.
"I want to assure our healthcare workers that we are looking for the fund sources and this will be given to you in cash. We ask for your patience,” she said.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega had said the hazard pay and special risk allowance for health frontline workers from January to June this year are still being processed by the Department of Budget and Management.
Meanwhile, to intensify COVID-19 vaccination, the government needs to obligate the P173 billion for Bayanihan 2 before the end of the law’s effectivity on June 30, said Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
He said this would eventually help the government recover from the lockdown-caused economic slump.
Noting the spikes in COVID cases in the provinces, the senator also said the government needs a lot of catching up to do to achieve its promised herd immunity of 70 million Filipinos inoculated by the end of the year.
"We have doubts because right now, we are only (averaging) 100,000 jabs a day. Our projection before the year is at 70 million jabs. If we are to compute, we need 700,000 vaccine jabs a day,” he said. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Pangilinan said that while the Department of Health was seeking an additional P66 billion for COVID response, about P173 billion from
Bayanihan 2 law had not been obligated or released yet, with the expiration of the law on June 30 just 10 days away.
Citing figures from the Department of Finance, he said at least P173 billion, or over a fourth of COVID-19 funds, remain unspent.
"Government agencies need to shape up because with this big amount, they can do a lot to ease the difficulties of the Filipinos impacted by the pandemic. It's a sin to have this much money and be sluggish in acting," he said.
Pangilinan earlier led the call to convene the Senate Committee of the Whole, which conducted two hearings on the government's vaccination program.
In related developments, the Philippine nurses’ organization has welcomed a new cap on health workers' deployment abroad from 5,000 to 6,500 a year.
“It’s good news for us because at least more will be deployed,” said PNA president Melbert Reyes.
On Friday, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) leading the country's COVID-19 response said it raised the annual cap on the deployment of nurses and other health care workers who want to work abroad to 6,500.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration earlier this month suspended overseas deployment of newly-hired medical professionals after the 5,000 annual ceiling for new hires was breached on June 1.
“But the 5,000 cap has been filled. So, the 1,500 cap is from June to December,” said Reyes.
Reyes said their group was not in favor of imposing a deployment ban as it was within the right of health care workers to seek better opportunities abroad.
“We cannot deprive our nurses of looking for better opportunities especially if they can’t find it here in the Philippines,” Reyes said.
Reyes said nurses would not have to seek overseas employment if only the government resolved problems that would force them to do so. He said many colleagues wanted to remain in the country to work if given better opportunities.