Duterte orders Duque to release virus-hit health workers’ benefits ‘immediately’

President Rodrigo Duterte today ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to form a team which should “immediately” aid the release of the nearly three months overdue sickness and death benefits owed to health workers who were struck by the coronavirus while in the line of duty.

This comes after Senator Sonny Angara, a coronavirus survivor, earlier this week said not one COVID-19-infected Filipino medical worker has received the benefits mandated by the Bayanihan [Camaraderie] Act of 2020.

“I’m asking Secretary Duque to form a new team that would focus on the immediate delivery of the assistance that should be given to those who died and became ill.  And I expect it within 24 hours,” Duterte said in a public briefing on the coronavirus response.

“We have to respond to the problem besetting the distribution of the assistance to them,” the president added.

Read: No coronavirus-afflicted health worker received gov’t aid, says Senator Angara

Under the law which was enacted in March, health workers severely infected with the virus should receive a compensation of PHP100,000 (US$1,991), while families of workers who died from COVID-19 while in the line of duty should receive PHP1 million (US$19,900) in payouts.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said an “angry” and “frustrated” Duterte gave the Department of Health (DOH) a deadline of three working days to distribute some PHP32 million (US$639,830) to the deceased frontliners’ kin.

Duque, for his part, said that he’s asked his staff to work through the weekend to meet the deadline, adding that they have already tracked down the 32 families who lost their kin to the virus. The secretary did not identify how many of the severely infected are due for payouts but claimed that they have already received separate insurance benefits from the government.

“We will comply with your deadline…Those who have been severely infected and critical, they are still alive but based on your directives they will be given PHP100,000 on top of PhilHealth, which have already given each one of them PHP700,000,” Duque said in English and Filipino in the same briefing.

The health chief also asked his staff to focus on the benefits of the deceased, while blaming them for the delay.

“I am asking them to focus on the 32 families. Because it’s become really embarrassing. They already lost their loved ones, and my staff has been lazily taking their time in dispensing the benefits. There was no sense of urgency and I really resent that,” Duque said.

The president pointed out that the lagging cash aid distribution justifies his reasons for appointing military men to lead the pandemic response.

Read: Malacañang says ‘obedience’ of military men makes them ideal to lead campaign against COVID-19

“That’s why in the beginning I said that all financial matters be it of [medical] assistance should be tasked to Carlito [Galvez, chief implementer of the anti-COVID-19 drive], to the military, to make things easier,” Duterte said.

“But I did not want to downgrade your [Duque] department because you will lose your identity in the national narrative,” the president added.

The health secretary has received flak from both lawmakers and the public, for his supposed less-than-ideal handling of the pandemic with more than a dozen senators earlier asking for Duque’s resignation. Duterte ignored their demands and said that he trusted the health secretary, ordering Duque to stay on his post.

Earlier this week, Senator Richard Gordon, who chairs the Philippine Red Cross, said he’s baffled why a lack of implementing rules is being blamed for the delay in payouts.

“You don’t need implementing rules and regulations here. The law is very clear. They have already died, a little investigation would tell us that you can pay them because they died while on the frontline. That’s a no-brainer,” Gordon said.

This article, Duterte orders Duque to release virus-hit health workers’ benefits ‘immediately’, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!