MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to health workers for more time to release pending benefits, for which scores of them have protested.
"Kung may pera lang talaga… hindi namin pigilan, ibigay namin lahat ‘yan tutal anuhin man namin 'yang pera sa kamay namin," Duterte said in a taped national address that aired on Wednesday.
(If there is just money, we won't hold it back, we will release everything because what will we do with that anyway.)
"Give us time to adjust to the finances because the fluctuation of events, hindi natin malaman (we cannot know)," he continued.
At least 103 medical workers have died during the pandemic, among some 33,500 coronavirus-related fatalities.
Scores of healthcare workers protested last week to demand an end to what they called government neglect and unpaid benefits.
Health workers also demanded the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whose agency is facing questions over the procurement of allegedly overpriced COVID-19 supplies, which Duterte and his aides have denied.
Duterte also refused to fire Duque, but later said he would accept the health chief's voluntary resignation.
"Let him (Duque) complete his work," said the President.
"At the end of the day, kung palpak ang trabaho n’ya (if his work is sloppy) then that is the time for reckoning—but not before completing the programs under his department in pursuance to his work as secretary," he added.
The Philippines has among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Asia and has been battling an epidemic since March last year, which has hamstrung efforts to revive an economy that contracted more than 9 percent in 2020.
Cases in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country's 2.1 million cases, while total deaths have exceeded 34,400.
— With a report from Reuters