Health workers blast gov’t stimulus package as bulk goes to tourism sector, not health services

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2020 04:06 PM | Updated as of Mar 20 2020 05:00 PM

MANILA — A group of health workers on Friday criticized the government’s decision to allot a large portion of the recently approved P27.1-billion economic stimulus package to tourism amid the Luzon-wide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said it resents that the administration prioritized the Department of Tourism "by allotting a big chunk, P14 billion of the economic stimulus package set up to fight COVID-19, and there [is] no mentioned budget for health workers' and patients’ safety versus COVID-19.”

The stimulus package announced by the Department of Finance allots P14 billion from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to support the tourism industry.

Meanwhile, P3.1 billion from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will be used to “stop the spread of COVID-19, including the acquisition of test kits.”

“We can’t see any relevance in allotting [a] P14-billion budget for tourism out of P27.1B of COVID Response budget, while our health workers and patients suffered the most,” said AHW National President Robert Mendoza in a statement.

Officials had earlier noted the possible impact of the Luzon lockdown and travel restrictions in other parts of the country on the tourism industry, as it restricted flights and shuttered hotels and restaurants. 

Mendoza also criticized the government for not allotting a higher budget for the health sector, especially for personal protective equipment of health workers in the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Friday, there have been 230 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Of that number 18 have died and 8 have recovered.

AHW said the government should allot funds for ventilators, which is needed for severe COVID-19 cases.

“COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and it can cause lung inflammation or pneumonia, which makes breathing difficulty for patients. That’s why ventilators are needed to help treat patients with the disease,” the group said.

“Ordinary patients could not afford it; they prefer to die than paying expensive rent of ventilator. By cutting health budget means, kamatayan sa mamamayang Pilipino [that means death for the Filipino people], that is the sad reality of our public health care system”, Mendoza said, explaining that a ventilator costs P2,400 to P5,000 for the first 3 days and are usually owned by private companies operating within government hospitals.

The group also lamented that the government did not think of providing transportation for health workers when the enhanced community quarantine was imposed. 

He said some workers are still left stranded, unable to go to work.

“The DOH did not release a proper guideline in terms of the ‘leave credits’ of our stranded health workers. They are worried if it will be deducted or not to their leave credits, which means they will be charged as ‘no work, no pay,’” he said.

Several government agencies, local government units and private sector organizations have dispatched vehicles to ferry health workers after some were left without transport options immediately after the lockdown was enforced.