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Show some appreciation

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 14, 2021 - 12:00am

After a year and a half of the pandemic, our health workers feel abused and unappreciated by the Duterte administration. Calling them modern day heroes is hypocritical lip service that does not make anything better.

Nurses in government hospitals work long hours due to understaffing. They risk their lives amid limited supplies of PPEs to protect them from the virus.

They have also suffered delayed payment of a diminished hazard pay. I recall reading about the case of a nurse from Cainta who died of COVID in the line of duty last year.

When her daughter claimed her hazard pay, she expected to get P30,000 – or the equivalent of 60 days of risky work multiplied by P500, the daily hazard pay promised in a DOH press release.

What she got was P7,265… representing her mother’s special risk allowance which was 25 percent of her basic salary plus her COVID-19 hazard pay that was whittled down to P60.93 or the balance of the nurse’s P239 usual hazard pay and the P300 COVID-19 hazard pay that her hospital came up with to abide by Duterte’s Administrative Order  26.

Frontliners also complained of inadequate support for transportation and accommodation in the light of limited public transport during lockdowns. It was Vice President Leni who first did something about it with the help of Ube transit of Bert Lina.

Now the budget department says the government has no funds to pay salary differentials government nurses are entitled to.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado issued Budget Circular 2020-4, upgrading the pay of entry-level nurses. The adjustment is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.

The DBM said its new circular on nurses’ salaries is pursuant to RA 9173, the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002, whose implementation had been delayed for years by a court case. It was finally decided last Dec. 21, 2019 by the Supreme Court, which upheld the provision on nurses’ pay under Section 32 of RA 9173.

Harry Roque says not to worry because the back pay of lowly paid and overworked nurses may be included in the proposed budget for 2022.

Why can’t Duterte use some of the billions he has in his discretionary funds (that incidentally require no auditing) to provide funding for the nurses if only to show some appreciation for their heroic work during this pandemic?

Aside from that, a group of 823 nurses at the Philippine General Hospital has sought the release of salaries worth a measly P43 million that they were supposed to receive in 18 months, but did not.

At San Lazaro Hospital, some nurses have expressed their concern over their safety and non-payment of hazard pay, among other complaints. The nurses complained they were being overworked and left unprotected from COVID-19.

Sen. Frank Drilon, who understands the workings of the bureaucracy, does not buy the DBM alibi. Drilon said the DBM can use the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) to cover the salary differential of nurses in government hospitals. Drilon said the MPBF is designed for such needs.

“The nation is forever grateful for the bravery and selfless act of our medical frontliners, most especially our nurses in crowded government hospitals who lead the fight against COVID-19 every single day. Now that they need us, are we going to let them down?” Drilon asked.

Drilon appealed: “Malaking bagay po ito para sa ating mga frontline nurses. Ibigay na po natin. Huwag na po natin ipitin yung sahod nila. Huwag na nating pahirapan pa.”

MPBF has an appropriation of P56.6 billion in 2020 and P29.3 billion in 2021. But Drilon said that based on average utilization rate from the past five years, it is projected that MPBF has unutilized balances in the amount of P18.4 billion for 2020 and around P9.5 billion for 2021.

Drilon said that historically, the MPBF is not fully utilized and is declared savings by the end of the year. On average, the utilization rate for the MPBF between 2017 to 2019 is only 67.48 percent, he said.

On top of the back pay problem, Duterte has ordered a stop to the deployment of nurses for overseas jobs because the yearly cap of 5000 set by the government had been reached. Hundreds of healthcare workers covered by approved job orders must now wait until next year before their documents are processed.

It is so unfair. Sure, we need a lot of health workers during this pandemic. But they also have to take care of their family’s future. And they are not likely to work in local hospitals anyway. Many choose higher paying jobs in call centers.

These nurses have also paid for their own education and training and owe the government nothing. Appealing to their sense of patriotism and heroism is so unfair if Duterte is unwilling to give them their due.

Our nurses also suffer low salaries in the private hospitals. They are even made to pay “training fees” so the nurses can get the experience needed to work abroad.

The developed markets once closed their doors to foreign nurses, but have now reopened their immigration doors for our healthcare workers.  The Duterte administration’s response is to shut down this flow by an unexplainable cap on deployment.

It is not enough to call the frontliners modern day heroes and put up a monument to honor the fallen ones. Helping the living survive is more meaningful.

The Duterte administration should change the shameful way it is treating nurses by releasing their salary differentials and allowing their foreign deployment.

Mabuti pa si Prince Charles. He expressed appreciation for our nurses working in UK:

“To these wonderfully selfless people, I wanted to offer my most heartfelt gratitude for the outstanding care and comfort you give to your patients. You have made a truly remarkable contribution to the health and well-being of so many people across the country at such a difficult time.”

Here, the Duterte government takes them for granted, almost treating them like slaves.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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