Health workers seek release of benefits as COVID-19 pandemic rages on

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 11 2021 06:57 PM

MANILA - Several health workers on Friday staged a protest calling for the health department to release their allowance for meals, accommodation, and transportation under the Bayanihan 2 law.

The medical frontliners were from the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRRMC), San Lazaro Hospital and Fabella Hospital. 

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier extended until June 30 the special risk allowance for health workers catering to or in direct contact with patients suffering COVID-19. 

Health workers are expected to receive around P35,000 each. 

This should cover their meal allowance and reimbursement of transportation and accommodation from September to December last year. 

But Cristy Donguines, president of the JRMMC Employees Union-Alliance of Health Workers, said some hospitals gave health workers food items instead of cash incentives.

“Ang pagkakaintindi ng management namin, meals, cooked food. Kaya binibigay sa amin sangkatutak na pagkain kahit di ka duty. Panis na, niluto nang umaga, matigas na, di na kaya kainin ng empleyado,” Donguines explained. 

(Our management thought that it would be meals or cooked food, which is why they are giving us these food even if we are not on duty. It is spoiled, cooked earlier, and had already become hard. We cannot eat it anymore.)

“Kinokontra namin. Kung gusto nilang mapakinabangan ng mga health care workers at kami importante sa kanila, ibigay nila sa amin through groceries. Tatanggapin naman namin," she added. 

(We are against this. If they want to take care of health care workers and if we really are important to them, they should give this budget to us as groceries. We will accept it.) 

But their fight for these benefits is not yet over.

According to Donguines, the appropriated funds were returned by the management of various hospitals in December after supposedly being ordered by the DOH. 

This, even though health workers have supposedly not yet received their benefits.

“Yung budget na dinownload sa amin ng DOH noong Dec. 16 na worth P76 million para sa transpo, accommodation, at meal allowance ng mga health care workers ng Jose Reyes, dinownload sa amin Dec 16. Pagdating ng Dec 19, naglabas ng department order na ang mga hindi namin na-utilize na budget kailangan nang ibalik,” she explained.

(The budget intended by the DOH on Dec. 16 worth P76 million for transportation, accommodation, and meal allowance... was returned after a department order on Dec. 19 which said that all unutilized budget should be returned)

She questioned how funds worth P76 million would be used in a span of 3 days. 

"Nagbigay sila ng deadline. Ang budget ay from September... Tatlong araw lang ang pagitan, paano mo i-utilize ang P76 million na halaga ng pondo? Gigipitin nila kami?" according to her. 

"Tatakutin ang management namin? Kung ikaw man nakaupo, susulatan ka ng DOH, bibigyan ka ng DO na ibalik na ang unutilized na budget. Natural, matatakot ang management namin na ma-audit.”

In a dialogue with the DOH, Department of Budget and Management, and Alliance of Health Workers last June 2, she said, the agency admitted that the appropriated budget for these benefits “was already utilized for the purchase of vaccines and other health needs.”

But health workers insisted that the government should find a way to give medical frontliners the benefits they deserve, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nagbibigay kami ng 100 percent service namin. Dapat sila, bigyan din kami ng serbisyo na 100 percent din... Nakakalungkot. Nakakababa ng dignidad. Nakakawala siya ng lakas ng loob." 

(We are giving a hundred percent of our service, they should also give their 100 percent too. It is so sad. Our morale is low. We already losing our will )

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"Sana itong inaasahan natin na susuporta sa health care workers, sila pa number one na nilulugmok tayo at lalo tayong pinapahirapan at sinasakal,” Donguines said.

(The people we are expecting to help us continue to make things bad for us) 

The health agency in late November last year urged healthcare workers to file a grievance complaint if their benefits were delayed or unreleased. 

ABS-CBN News already contacted the DOH for comment but the agency has yet to respond as of this story's posting.