P20.8 billion in ’22 budget for hiring more health workers

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
P20.8 billion in â22 budget for hiring more health workers
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said P17 billion will be used to hire 26,035 health professionals for deployment to “underserved” hospitals or areas, and P3.8 billion to fund the emergency hiring of 6,810 COVID-19 Human Resources for Health.
Geremy Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines — As overworked and underpaid medical frontliners repeatedly threaten to stage mass protests, the national government has allocated P20.8 billion in the 2022 budget for purposes of hiring more health personnel amid the pandemic.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said P17 billion will be used to hire 26,035 health professionals for deployment to “underserved” hospitals or areas, and P3.8 billion to fund the emergency hiring of 6,810 COVID-19 Human Resources for Health (HRH).

“This, I believe, will help our common efforts to sustain our COVID-19 response efforts while supporting the gradual transition to full recovery,” the Leyte congressman said, referring to the P5.024-trillion national budget for next year.

These twin allocations form part of the total P395.6 billion – or 14 percent of the overall national budget for 2022 – that the Department of Budget and Management said has been allocated by the national government for purposes of combatting the pandemic.

DBM Undersecretary and officer-in-charge Tina Rose Marie Canda made this revelation during the briefing conducted by economic managers of President Duterte, who comprise the Development Budget Coordination Committee, before the House of Representatives.

The career official gave the specific amount in response to a question posed by independent opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, who first asked Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez if the National Expenditure Program is an anti-COVID-19 budget.

The head of the Department of Finance replied the global pandemic is indeed a problem of the national government, but this is “not exclusive” considering that other aspects such as education and infrastructure are also important.

Lagman and Dominguez nevertheless both agreed the NEP is an “all-purpose budget.”

House Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo also took the opportunity to ask Canda to provide them – the House minority bloc led by Rep. Stephen Paduano – a “copy of the COVID-19 budget and expenditures” like what she promised Lagman.

For his part, Rep. LRay Villafuerte urged his colleagues to expedite the approval of two legislative measures that aim to provide health workers with hazard pay plus substantial increases in the current rates of their overtime pay and other benefits.

The Camarines Sur congressman said these proposals – which he authored – will “prevent a repeat of the current unrest among medical personnel resulting from the undue delay in the release of their hazard pay and other pandemic-related benefits.”

‘No excuse’

For Vice President Leni Robredo, there is no excuse for the government not to release the benefits for health workers since the 2021 budget was crafted during the pandemic.

“So ito, inaasahan na natin na kakailanganin natin ito. Dapat nakahanap na tayo ng paraan na ibigay ito (We were expecting that this would be needed, so a way should have been found to give the benefits),” Robredo said during her weekly radio program yesterday.

The Vice President said the government should not have waited for medical workers to complain and protest before processing their benefits and long-overdue special risk allowances (SRAs).

“Dapat pagpapakita ng ating appreciation, dapat inasikaso na agad (We should have showed appreciation and took care of it at once),” she said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III assured President Duterte that the special risk allowance and compensation for health workers will be distributed until Aug. 31.

Duterte gave health and budget officials 10 days to pay health workers who have not received their allowances amid fears that the delayed release of allowances could affect the country’s pandemic response.

The President also ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to use whatever funds the government has to address the complaints of medical frontliners on the slow release of SRAs.

At the Senate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan is pushing to institutionalize the grant of benefits and compensation to public and private health workers in the event of a public health emergency as declared by the president.

In his explanatory note to Senate Bill 2351, Pangilinan said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented public health crisis in the Philippines, overwhelming the already struggling healthcare system.

“It revealed gaps in financing for healthcare and highlighted the meager benefits and compensation being received by our healthcare workers. Yet, in our battle against the pandemic, they continue to serve and save our people while risking their own lives and being grossly underpaid,” Pangilinan added.

He said there must be free life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals, as well personal protective equipment and free and regular testing.

He noted that healthcare workers are forced to extend their work hours from the regular eight-hour shift to 16 hours as they attend to several COVID-19 patients. He added nurse-to-patient ratio is now 1:35 and at times, 1:100 – far from the DOH standard ratio of 1:12. – Pia Lee-Brago, Cecille Suerte Felipe


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