‘Heroes’ push Duque ouster
Frontliners seek SRA release on ‘national day of protest’
Health workers said they will not abandon their patients even as they staged a mass protest. Medical workers who did not join the rally because they were on duty wore red arm bands to show their support. In an interview with TeleRadyo, Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center employees’ union president Cristy Donguines said Duque should resign immediately out of delicadeza. “Their excuse that they are still looking for funds is unacceptable. COA just said in its report that DOH has P11.9 billion in unused, unutilized budget. Yet they only released P311 million,” Donguines said. National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) employees’ association president Edwin Pacheco said it is hurtful that they have to resort to mass mobilization for such a meager amount. “We are fighting this pandemic. Why is the government depriving us of what is due us? We should not have to rally for our benefits,” Pacheco said. The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) on Wednesday demanded that Duque and the DOH be held accountable for the failure to release the benefits due to medical frontliners. The FNU, in a statement, said their group is in “extreme frustration” after the DOH failed once more to implement the benefits to ease the financial burden of nurses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group added that the P311 million worth of SRAs allegedly released by the DOH targeted only 20,000 more health workers, which is far from the 500,000 targeted health workers. According to FNU, for 2021 alone, more than 103 health workers have died and more than 28,000 have been infected. Robert Mendoza, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) national president, said the deadline they set with the DOH to grant our COVID-19 benefits is finally over. “Our patience with Secretary Duque is also over. A year has passed, but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the COVID-19 issue remains. Enough is enough! Now, let him face our collective call for him to step down and be accountable for his wrongdoings especially in ensuring our health, safety and welfare,” he said. He noted that Duque and President Duterte were wrong in thinking that the growing anger of the health workers can only be appeased by providing “a meager budget which only few have received.” Benjamin Santos, AHW secretary-general, said the fight was not just a matter of fulfilling the economic needs of the health workers, but rather a fight for justice. “We are deprived of our rights to avail what is provided by law. We, health workers became victims of Secretar Duque’s failure, gross negligence and incompetence in providing quality health that we all deserve,” he said. Earlier, health workers from Fabella Hospital and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine conducted their own protests to demand for the release of their benefits. Health frontline workers in St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City are still waiting for their SRAs. However, only a few medical workers will receive it. DOH had said only medical workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients will receive their SRA under Bayanihan 2 law, which expired in June 2021. The DOH had appealed to health workers to cancel their planned protests for fear that the health system would be at risk. The Anakpawis partylist joined hundreds of health workers from public and private hospitals in a coordinated protest to assert their much-delayed economic benefits promised by the government under the Bayanihan program.
“The anger and frustration of our health workers are justified. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and President Rodrigo Duterte are guilty of criminal neglect for abandoning our weary health workers,” said Anakpawis President Ariel Casilao. “Health workers have all the right to protest and demand what is due to them. They took to the streets today because Malacanang and DOH repeatedly failed to address their just demands and grievances. Health workers are our front liners in this battle against COVID, yet their pleas are being ignored,” the Anakpawis leader said. Photos by Danny Pata and Norman Cruz