“We hope that Secretary Duque understands that every minute in our lives as health workers matters. Many from our ranks got sick and succumbed to COVID-19 already. We can no longer afford to spend more time to wait in order to get our rightful benefits and demands.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Filipino health workers commemorated their day through a motorcade to reiterate calls for the upholding of their rights and welfare protection more than a year after the pandemic broke.
In a statement, the Alliance of Health Workers said they hope to unite and gather the unheard voices of modern-day heroes as they “play an important role and contribution in providing vital health services to the Filipino people.”
“The real heroes are those health workers who bravely, selflessly and wholeheartedly continue rendering health services to the Filipino people with highest degree of responsibility, efficiency and with a sense of deep humility and great pride,” AHW National President Robert Mendoza said in a statement on National Health Workers’ Day, May 7.
Those participating in the motorcade took Philippine capital’s street before converging for a short program in Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City. Dubbed as “”Honoring Our New Heroes and Continuing the Fight for Safety, Protection, Rights and Welfare,” they then drove to Mendiola, Manila, where they held a ‘die-in protest.’
The group said that more than a year since the pandemic began, health workers are still suffering due to low wages, and benefits yet to be received. Their safety, too, remains under threat with insufficient facilities and protective gears, said the health workers group.
On May 3, health workers wrote to President Rodrigo Duterte to seek a dialogue as their earlier meetings with the Department of Health proved to be “not truly fruitful” and that there were “no substantial gains.”
Among the issues they raised are their meals, accommodation, and transportation allowance, and the special risk and active hazard pay duty allowances as stated under the Bayanihan Law 2.
Health workers held two dialogues with the health department, where Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told them that the agency has filed the necessary requests before the Department of Budget and Management for the allowances due to the health workers.
For the special risk allowance (SRA) and active hazard duty pay (AHDP), the health department was told by the DBM that they can tap the agency’s savings from its Personal Services and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses budget amounting to P1.21 billion ($25.26 million). But the AHW said it is still not enough for the P15,000 ($313) SRA and P5,000 ($104) AHDP that health workers are supposed to receive. The agency, they added, should have at least P59 billion ($1.23 billion) to provide the benefits due to health workers.
The health agency also has yet to clarify if health workers who are working from home or on quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure will still receive their hazard pay.
“We hope that Secretary Duque understands that every minute in our lives as health workers matters. Many from our ranks got sick and succumbed to COVID-19 already. We can no longer afford to spend more time to wait in order to get our rightful benefits and demands. We fervently wanted to get significant results after the dialogue we had,” said Mendoza in their April 28, Workers Memorial Day statement.
They also brought to the president’s attention the rampant red-tagging among health workers who are at the fore of pushing for their rights and welfare.
“In this trying time of pandemic, we are in the frontline of risking our lives and health battling the COVID-19. We are only asserting our benefits and demands to hire more health workers to handle COVID-19 patients, and yet we are being tagged as terrorists,” the AHW said in a letter to President Duterte.
The group added that red tagging puts their lives to danger, and that it runs counter to the president’s pronouncement of honoring the fortitude, selflessness, dedication, and commitment of health workers to overcoming the pandemic.
In April, a government official issued a statement red-tagging health workers under the banner of AHW, and branded their leaders as terrorists. The health department, on May 1, then released a statement to stand up and protect health workers from any form of discrimination, intimidation, and violence, after a consultation with them.