‘Stop insulting us’: Gov’t nurses demoralized after so-called demotion caused by DBM circular

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 01 2020 06:46 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2020 07:52 AM

A health worker continues his duty inside the COVID-19 wing of Tondo Medical Center in Manila City, on April 17, 2020. Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A group of nurses on Tuesday decried the seeming demotion of their colleagues caused by a budget circular supposedly meant to raise the salary of entry-level nurses. 

During a 4-hour dialogue with the Department of Budget and Management, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) questioned the decision to change the government’s nursing positions through Budget Circular 2020-4.

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The circular is supposed to set the rules for the upgrading of the entry-level Nurse I position to Salary Grade 15 as stated in Republic Act no. 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002. The provision of the law setting the minimum salary for entry-level nurses was not implemented for the last 18 years and is only being funded for this year after the Supreme Court upheld its validity through an en banc decision.

But while entry-level nurses, starting January this year, will finally earn around P32,000 a month, other nurses face setbacks due to the circular’s “modification in the position attributes of the nurse positions.”

Under Section 8 of the budget circular, those under Nurse I and II will be under the position Nurse I and receive Salary Grade 15. Those under Nurse III will be reclassified under Nurse II and will still receive their current salary of SG 17. Those under Nurse IV will be reclassified under Nurse III and will still receive their current salary SG 19, and so on. Finally, those under Nurse VII will be reclassified as Nurse VI and will still receive their current salary of SG 24.

Jaymmee de Guzman, a nurse from the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila City, pointed out during the dialogue that it took 6 to 7 years for her to be promoted to Nurse II. But, with the changes in position under the circular, she will revert to Nurse I level.

“You owe us 18 years of pay in actuality. But we respect ang binigay ng Supreme Court to start yung pagbabayad ng January (But we respect the Supreme Court’s decision to start the implementation in January),” De Guzman said.

“Please stop insulting us nurses. Giving us praise but the next day, you insult us,” she said.

Several other nurses expressed similar sentiments, saying that the changes in their position caused them to feel demoralized.

DBM Asec. Kim Robert de Leon said that the circular “merely operationalizes" the Supreme Court decision.

He also said that the modification in the nurses ranks was “unavoidable” because they had to “preserve the hierarchy,” which means, they cannot exceed Salary Grade 24, which is comparable to other professions.

He insisted it was not a demotion.

“The technical definition of demotion….walang demotion na naganap because you maintained the salary grade,” De Leon explained.

(There was no demotion because you maintained the salary grade.)

REPERCUSSIONS

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But FNU President Maristela Abenojar said the changes in rank have implications on their job description and patient care. 

She said it goes to show that the DBM did not consult those from the health sector before releasing its circular.

“Lagi n'yong sinasabing engage the DOH, engage Civil Service Commission. Sana kayo din, nasa pamahalaan, you engage the people na affected by your policy,” she said.

(You always tell us to engage the DOH, engage the Civil Service Commission. We hope those of you in government would also engage the people affected by your policy.)

“Hindi alam ng lahat kung ano ang paghihirap ng nasa baba eh. Iyon lang hinihingi namin. Consult us. Kami yung naghihirap sa baba eh. Kami nagkakasakit ngayon dahil sa pandemic,” added Ronchie Santos, a nurse employed by the Bulacan local government.

(Not everyone knows how the people at the bottom suffer. That’s our only request. Consult us. We’re the ones suffering. We’re the ones getting sick because of the pandemic.)

Mark Defensor, a member of the Philippine Heart Center Employees Association, explained that each of the positions refers to specific roles and tasks in the hospital.

“It’s really a very disheartening policy,” he said, adding that they are already “exploring the unconstitutional merits of the policy.”

He pointed out that unlike Nurse I, those under Nurse II are tenured nurses who are trained to become intensive care unit staff. The higher rank they reach, the more specialized their tasks are. And those at the top of their ranks have supervisory and administrative tasks as well.

The problem of job description was repeatedly raised by the nurses, but DBM Director Gerald Janda said those would be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and the Civil Service Commission.

ABS-CBN News sought for a reaction from the DOH, but has yet to receive a response.

The DBM said the group of nurses will have to relay to the DOH any changes they want in the policy.

Janda assured the nurses that the DBM had no intention of belittling them. 

But still, many of the nurses expressed disappointment and shared how demoralized they were.

Nico Oba, another nurse working for a local government unit, said the modification in nursing positions is on top of the sector’s contractualization problems.

“Mas pipilliin nating lumayo (at magtrabaho sa ibang bansa) dahil pag job order ka, wala kang security of tenure. No work, no pay. Walang benefits ng overtime,” he said. “Isang modern-day slavery ang ginagawa para sa mga job order and contractual nurses.”

(We would rather work abroad because if you’re a job order here, you don’t have security of tenure. No work, no pay. No benefits for overtime. The use of job order and contractual nurses is like modern-day slavery.)

Although, except those with existing employment contracts as of March 8 this year, health workers are banned from leaving the country because of the huge demand for manpower in hospitals due to the pandemic.