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Duterte wants more health frontliners to get risk allowance

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Duterte wants more health frontliners to get risk allowance
Nograles made the statement following Duterte’s order to the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Budget and Management to look for funds to pay health workers’ benefits.
STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants more healthcare workers, who are on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, to receive special risk allowance (SRA), Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said yesterday.

Nograles made the statement following Duterte’s order to the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Budget and Management to look for funds to pay health workers’ benefits.

“There are some nurses who say they should also be included as COVID-19 continues to spread and they are now directly exposed (to the virus). This is being verified by the DOH now,” Nograles told dzBB.

“Maybe they were not included (among the beneficiaries) but they are also qualified. That is what the President meant when he said, ‘look for funds,’ ” he said.

Nograles said the DOH had already released the SRA for health workers under Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 amounting to P9.02 billion.

Last week, nurses and other healthcare workers warned that they would conduct “mass resignation” due to the inability of the DOH to give SRA and active hazard duty pay.

Under Administrative Order No. 4 signed by Duterte on June 1, health workers who directly cater to COVID-19 patients are eligible to receive SRA of up to P5,000 per month.

In his pre-recorded address aired Saturday morning, Duterte gave agencies 10 days to pay health workers.

He directed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to use his agency’s available funds and look for other sources of funding to pay the medical frontliners.

“I am committed to leading our nation out of this pandemic, with the help of frontline institutions so that we can be victorious,” Duterte said.

“With regard to frontliners who are complaining about their allowances... I am now ordering, this is an order, Secretary Duque, pay them. Use whatever money there is. Give the benefits that nurses both in government and those outside the government are asking for. Pay the volunteers,” he said.

“If you do not have money, spend whatever is there. I’m ordering you to use every money there,” he added.

The President also offered his office’s contingency fund to ensure the speedy release of the health workers’ SRA.

Need to improve SRA distribution

The DOH yesterday admitted the need to improve the distribution of special risk allowance to healthcare workers.

“The DOH recognizes the need to further improve inter-agency coordination and communication and streamline processes among its operating units to ensure dispatch in providing benefits for our frontliners who have worked tirelessly to keep Filipinos safe,” the agency said in a statement released yesterday.

Duque, however, clarified that the SRA being distributed by the government only covers those directly providing care to COVID patients.

“The giving of a special risk allowance is qualified under the law. What the law is saying is those with direct patient care of COVID cases are entitled to receive it. Not all will given,” Duque said in Filipino during a meeting with the President on Saturday night.

He, however, said there are discussions on how to liberalize the interpretation of the law so that not only those providing direct care to COVID patients will qualify.

Institutionalizing emergency benefits

Meanwhile, a bill institutionalizing emergency benefits for frontliners has been filed in the Senate.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan has filed a still unnumbered bill titled “Health Workers Protection During Public Health Emergencies Act” to institutionalize additional benefits for public and private healthcare workers in direct contact with persons affected by a disease during public health emergencies.

“Our frontliners are the first defense of the country every time there’s public health emergency. But we can see how slow their hazard pay is given. We don’t want it slow. That’s why we want to institutionalize their benefits and speed up the release of whatever is for them,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.

Under the proposed measure, six additional benefits shall be given to health workers – a monthly special risk allowance in the whole duration of a state of national emergency; an active hazard pay; payment of all medical expenses in case of exposure to the disease or any work-related injury, compensation for those who contracted the disease in the line of duty; free life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals and provision of personal protective equipment as well as free and regular disease testing.

Pangilinan said the active hazard duty pay must be within 25 percent of the daily salary rate of health workers, based on the number of days they physically report for work.

On the other hand, compensation for health workers should cover sickness of mild and moderate nature in the amount of P15,000; severe or critical sickness, P100,000 and death P1 million.

“We are pushing for the rights of our healthcare workers in the Senate, especially in the upcoming budget deliberations. It is the government’s duty to properly and promptly compensate our frontliners in recognition of their service,” Pangilinan said.

Earlier, the senator filed amendments to the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers that included additional compensation for frontliners.

The Commission on Audit recently flagged P11.68-billion unobligated funds of the DOH, which were supposedly for hazard pay and special risk allowances of health workers. – Mayen Jaymalin, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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