'Ni pisong duling:' Private health workers say promised benefits still missing

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2021 05:54 PM | Updated as of Aug 17 2021 10:07 AM

Members of the Alliance of Health Workers hold a noise barrage and ‘die-in’ protest in front of the Department of Health headquarters
Members of the Alliance of Health Workers hold a noise barrage and ‘die-in’ protest in front of the Department of Health headquarters in Manila on June 22, 2021. The group called for the immediate release of meal, accommodation and transportation allowances of health workers and frontliners in the fight against COVID-19. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Several health workers have yet to receive benefits promised by the government, the leader of a union of health workers said Monday, following claims of Health Sec. Francisco Duque III that the funds were ready for distribution.

Jao Clumia, president of St. Luke’s Medical Center Employees Association, said Duque's claims are incorrect because no health worker in any private hospital has received these benefits despite being included in the supposed beneficiaries as mandated by law.

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"Taliwas ito sa mga sinasabi ni Sec. Duque na ang pahayag niya sa media, matagal na raw downloaded yung yung meals, accommodation, life insurance, saka transportation. Wala nga po kami niyan kahit pisong duling," he told ANC's Headstart.

"Lahat po kami dito, lahat ng private hospital, wala pong ganun," he said.

(This is different from Sec. Duque's statement to the media that the meals, accommodation, life insurance, and transportation allowance have long been downloaded. We have not received even a single peso. All of us here, all of us in all private hospitals don't have that.)

Clumia said unions of private hospital employees had several meetings with assistant secretaries from the DOH and even representatives from the Department of Labor and Employment, but to no avail.

"Pinaiikot, pinagpapasa-pasahan lang kami," he said.

(We were being passed around.)

He also decried how the DOH returned to the national treasury several billions last month. He said about P53.48 billion was originally allocated by the government for the health workers, but they did not receive any part of this budget.

"Sasabihin nila naibigay na raw iyon sa amin. Talaga namang hindi namin matanggap-tanggap yung pahayag. Si Usec. Rosario Vergeire, sinasabi na ‘binigyan na namin yan.’ Hindi kami mamamato ng kamatis diyan sa DOH kung natanggap namin yun. Wag niyo kaming lokohin," he said.

(They said they have given that to us. We can't accept that. Usec. Rosario Vergeire said 'we have given it to them.' We won't throw tomatoes at the DOH if we received that. Don't fool us.)

He said his private employer had shouldered the allowances of his fellow healthcare workers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has now run out of funds to continue doing so because the DOH also failed to support the hospital management.

Only 3 private hospitals received allocation from the DOH, he said, quoting Gloria Balboa, director of Metro Manila Center for Health Development. 

Clumia said there seemed to be discrimination between public and private hospitals, when both were entitled to such benefits. Public hospitals received about 30 percent of their allocation, he said, citing data from a group of unionized workers.

"Sa amin, dinadaan namin sa pakiusapan, merong dayalogo at sinasabi naming sa Department of Labor na kami wala niyan. Nangangako naman yung mga tagapagsalita ng DOH, so nung ibabalik na nila yung budget sa DBM (Department of Budget and Management), teka lang, bakit ibabalik niyo na nang wala pa kaming natanggap? Dun na kami pumalag," he said.

(We tried to negotiate, have dialogues, and we tell the Department of Labor that we don't have that. Spokespersons for the DOH promised us, so when they were returning the budget to the DBM, why would they return it when we haven't received ours? That's when we spoke up.)

Clumia said their group, composed of medical frontliners from 10 private hospitals, has aligned with public health workers in their planned labor strike and all hospitals in the National Capital Region might be affected.

Their primary call during the strike was for Duque to step down.

"Mula pa nung umpisa ng COVID, ginawa kami at nagpapasalamat kami: tawag sa amin ng gobyerno ay mga bagong bayani. Kami yung mga bayaning pinangbabala sa kanyon…Isa lang po ang panawagan namin at nagkakaisa kami diyan, public and private health workers: Sec. Duque, mag-resign ka na po."

(From the start of the COVID pandemic, they called us new heroes and we're thankful for that. We are being used as cannonballs. We only have one plea and we are united, public and private health workers: Sec. Duque please resign.)

"Hindi po namin nararamdaman yung sinasabi ninyong tulong. Matagal na naming pinananawagan iyan. Sana po maramdaman ninyo iyon dahil kung ako po ay nasa position ninyo, matagal na po akong nag-resign," he said. 

(We don't feel the help you are saying. We have long been calling for that. We hope you can feel that because if I were in your position, I would have long resigned.)

Their group is eyeing to finish a position paper by Tuesday and submit this to lawmakers. Upon submission, Clumia said they will file a notice for strike and proceed with it within 10 days.