More than 126,000 medical frontliners from the private sector have yet to receive their sickness and death benefits as provided for in the two Bayanihan laws that President Duterte signed during the two-year pandemic.
“So what is holding it up?” Rep. LRay Villafuerte asked, adding, “What has made this holdup more appalling is that the Department of Budget and Management already announced in February that it has released P7.9 billion for the One COVID Allowance (OCA).”
The figure is accurate since no less than Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega of the Department of Health (DOH) was quoted as saying in a recent radio interview that only 400,000 of 526,727 health care workers (HCWs) have received their OCA.
Villafuerte yesterday issued this statement following reports quoting Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines president Jose Rene de Grano that many private health workers have yet to receive the benefits due them under the OCA.
“It looks like we’re still stuck with the same problem of delayed fund releases,” he said, lamenting that Republic Acts 11469 and 11494 (Bayanihan 1 and 2), which Congress passed to strengthen the country’s COVID-19 response and ensure support, failed in this aspect.
Earlier reports claimed that the DOH announced in May that it has released over P86.5 million to 54 health facilities, while another P403.4 million earmarked for 266 health facilities were “readily available,” pending their submission of required documents.
Under the law, frontline HCWs and non-HCWs identified to be at high risk areas are each entitled to P9,000 per month in extra benefits; and those at moderate and low-risk places will each get a monthly allowance of P6,000 and P3,000, respectively.
Such benefits are “retroactive to July 2021,” according to Villafuerte.
The Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances for HCWs (RA 11712) provides that HCWs’ benefits will have retroactive application from July 2021 and remain in force and effect during the state of national public health emergency as declared by the President.
Lift nurse quotas
House ways and means committee chair and Albay (2nd district) Rep. Joey Salceda has pushed for the lifting of the quota for nurses who will be deployed abroad as a means to “earn foreign currency.”
According to Salceda, the government should relax the deployment restriction on HCWs, particularly nurses, as a “countervailing measure” to the devaluation of peso.
Salceda said in a statement that if “foreign currency is more valuable now, then let’s work on earning more foreign currency.”
“Let’s also work on allowing our overseas Filipino nurses to return to work abroad if they wish. There are still working visa restrictions,” he noted.
He underscored that the deployment ban and restrictions, such as the quotas for nurses to be deployed overseas, should be eased.
“Still too low at just 6,500. The right to migration is a human right, after all,” he added.
In April 2020, the government had suspended the deployment of HCWs abroad to prevent the depletion of manpower in hospitals at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven months later, the restriction was eased but the government imposed a quota of only 5,000 and eventually 6,500 HCWs to be deployed annually.