By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Health workers held a protest action today as they continue to assail how they were deceived by the Department of Health (DOH) when they were repeatedly told that there is no appropriated budget for their due pay and benefits.
State auditors revealed in their annual report that there were P11.9 billion ($238.3 million) unutilized funds for the Special Risk Allowance and Hazard Pay allotted to health workers.
Health workers from the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center are also demanding the immediate release of the remaining 70 percent of the allotted budget for their accommodation and transportation allowance from September to December 2020 amounting to P39.2 million ($785,000).
“All this time, we have been deceived by Health Secretary Duque. Certainly, there is enough budget, but when it comes to health workers’ welfare, safety and protection, DOH always informs us that there is no appropriated budget,” said John Paul Gubaton, vice president of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Union.
Earlier this year, health workers held two dialogues with Duque, which they described as “not truly fruitful” and that there were no “no substantial gains.” The health secretary relayed the instructions of the Department of Budget and Management that their agency’s savings may be tapped but this was only at P1.21 billion ($25.26 million) when at least P59 billion ($1.23 billion) is needed to provide the benefits due to health workers.
Gubaton said that with the initial findings of COA, the health department “simply cannot deny us the truth.”
During their protest action, health workers also demanded the release of their active health duty pay from January to June 2021 and the provision of a special risk allowance for health workers both in public and private hospitals.
The Alliance of Health Workers has earlier told the health department that they have until Aug. 31 to provide the benefits long due to health workers. They said that instead of working on the release of these funds, the health department is passing the blame to the hospitals, saying they have until tomorrow, Aug. 26, to submit all the names of health workers with due COVID-19 response related benefits. Otherwise, they would no longer be allowed to avail of these funds.
The health department, through a memorandum, only looked into their Special Risk Allowance but not other benefits such as meal, accommodation and transportation, and the active hazard duty pay.