“Expectation versus reality” is usually the stuff of funny memes and lighthearted tweets. But when applied to matters of life and death—the questionable management of a pandemic for example—it’s definitely no laughing matter.
Joie Cruz touched on this in a recent Facebook post about her mother Tess, who passed away from COVID-19 last month. Tess has been a healthcare worker for around a decade, a nurse at Cainta Municipal Hospital before she died.
“A few months before my mom passed away, she's been telling me about how long she and her co-nurses had been waiting for their COVID hazard pay,” Cruz shares in her post, adding that her mom intended to use the added amount for her younger sister Maxene and her Groiler Home Learning Materials. Tess and her co-workers expected around PHP 30,000 based on the PHP 500 daily rate for frontliners announced by the Department of Health (DoH). Sadly, Tess passed away even before she saw a single cent of that extra pay.
But when Joie went to the hospital to process documents and claim benefits, she was told that the amount was actually just PHP 7,000 plus. “Apparently, the COVID hazard pay of the nurses in their public hospital has been reduced to just PHP 150 per day and on top of it were deductions that were not even properly explained by the hospital administration,” reads Joie’s explanation in the post. “In the end, it appears my mom was only given a freaking PHP 64.18 (USD 1.31) per day for her COVID hazard pay for 41 days.”
That amount must feel especially painful as many already found the PHP 500 baseline, that expectation bar, insulting to begin with. There has been a lot pushback from health workers ever since the COVID risk pay was announced in March. The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), for example, slammed DoH and the Duterte administration for managing to “deceive, divide, and insult” as quoted in an Inquirer article published in June. They pointed out what they saw as problems with the computation of the pay as well as scenarios wherein amounts wouldn’t be paid out at all.
Dr. GK Galvez Tan, son of former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, also had a lot to say when the amount was announced. “It's not about the money. Not quite. As some colleagues have said, most doctors would have done the job for free,” he said in a Facebook post last March. “It's not entirely about how much the DOH is giving. It’s about how much they may be holding back,” the doctor wrote. “If this is indeed all they can give, I want them to show us, point by point, peso by peso, why this is all they can afford.”
Joie, who is founder and CEO of design and creative firm Limitless Labs, echoed this sentiment in her own post. “This issue is not about monetary value. This issue is about how governments lie and how we take for granted and exploit our frontliners in the face of this pandemic,” she writes. “This issue is about how my mom was treated way, way below than what she deserves in a local public hospital where she worked in for more than 10 years—the first four years of those were without any salary.”
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Even as Joie and her family grieve, she promises forgiveness for those who have fallen short of giving her mother her due. “We forgive you, but we will never forget. We will hold you accountable,” she writes, adding that her family will make sure appropriate action will be taken against these wrongdoers. They know who they are, and her family won’t let their mother's passing be in vain.
“This fight is bigger than my Mom,” Joie writes in a follow-up post. “This fight is not just to honor her memory, but more so, to help the living—our exploited healthcare workers who are continuously deceived and treated like garbage by people in power.”