P1 billion risk benefits due to health workers out by next week, says Vergeire

Healthcare workers hold a protest outside the Philippines' Department of Health, demanding better wages and benefits amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Manila, Philippines, on September 1, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)
Healthcare workers hold a protest outside the Philippines' Department of Health, demanding better wages and benefits amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Manila, Philippines, on September 1, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

After the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) greenlighting of the release of additional funds for public and private health workers, the Department of Health (DOH) said that they would begin distributing the P1 billion COVID-19 benefits due to them next week.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said that 55,211 eligible health care workers would benefit from the payment of the special risk allowances (SRA), the monthly allowance of not more than P5,000 to health workers who took care or had “direct contact” with COVID-19 patients during the first two years of the pandemic, from September 15, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

“We are doing everything that we can so that the budget will be provided to DOH and we can download to our operating agencies,” Vergeire said in a press briefing.

Currently, the DOH still has a pending request for P11.5 billion unpaid Health Emergency Allowance for 1,617,660 eligible claimants from January to June of this year.

Meanwhile, health workers from private and public hospitals staged a protest in front of the DOH to pressure the health department to finally release the One COVID-19 Allowance (OCA) due to them.

OCA is a monthly compensation payment computed based on a health worker’s risk exposure: P3,000 for those working in low-risk areas; P6,000 for moderate-risk areas, while P9,000 for high-risk areas.

Minsan lang kami nakatanggap ng OCA, ibig bang sabihin ng OCA ay Once Covid Allowance?” said Ronald Millano, president of the union in Manila Doctor’s Hospital.

(We only received OCA once, does OCA stands for Once Covid Allowance?)

May pondong inilaan hanggang sa pagtatapos ng batas para sa aming OCA pero bakit hindi pa rin ito maibigay sa amin sa kabila ng mga naisumite nang mga requirements alinsunod sa mga guidelines ng DOH?” Millano added.

(Funds have been allocated when the law expired for our OCA but why can’t they still give it to us despite us having accomplished the requirements in accordance with the guidelines of the DOH?)

Upon the passage of Republic Act (RA) No. 11712 in April, OCA was consolidated in the Health Emergency Allowance (HEA), and starting on July 1, health workers are entitled to HEA until the state of emergency due to COVID-19 is lifted.

“Because of this law for HEA, we have to pay them retroactively from June 2021 to December 2021. But we don’t have funds for it,” said Vergeire, with around P64 billion needed for the payment of HEA to eligible health care workers.

Vergeire is likewise appealing to lawmakers to raise the DOH’s 2023 budget to include health workers’ benefits and allowances.

Kami sa DOH would want to provide benefits due to our health workers. Unfortunately, we need additional funds. We have arrears to our health workers which spans from July 2021. Mayroon kaming utang na P64 billion sa kanila – retroactive provision ang ating [batas] on health emergency allowance. I hope this body can help us get more funds,” she said.

(We in DOH would want to provide the benefits due to our health workers. Unfortunately, we need additional funds. We have arrears to our health workers which spans from July 2021. We owe them P64 billion – the law on health emergency allowance has a retroactive provision. I hope this body can help us get more funds.)

Senator Pia Cayetano, in response, said that the Senate will look into the request.

Sino ba naman ang aangal? Makatarungan naman ang hinihingi diba? Ipo-propose natin ito but money doesn’t grow on trees diba? So may makakaltasan somewhere. We have to discuss with the chairman of the committee on finance and other members,” she said.

(Who would complain? The request is justified, right? We will propose this but money doesn’t grow on trees, right? Deductions will have to be made somewhere. We have to discuss with the chairman of the committee on finance and other members.)

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.

Watch more videos on Yahoo: