By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – More than economic relief, Filipino health workers who held a nationwide simultaneous protest action yesterday, Sept. 1, said their fight for the release of their due benefits as mandated by Philippine laws is a struggle for justice.
“This fight is not just a matter of fulfilling the economic needs of the health workers, but rather this is a fight for justice. We are deprived of our rights to avail what is provided by law,” said Benjamin Santos, secretary general of the Alliance for Health Workers.
Following the Commission on Audit’s initial reports, health workers have been up in arms over the billions of public funds intended for COVID-19 response that was either unaccounted for or unused. They have since challenged the Philippine government that they have until August 30 to provide for their due benefits.
They, however, said that “we waited for nothing.”
Last week, the Philippine government released P311.79 million ($6.2 million) to cover the due Special Risk Allowance (SRA), which the health department said will cover some 20,000 public and private health workers.
Described by the health department as “the first batch of fund transfers,” the P311.79-million ($6.2 million) SRA funds is a measly 2.6 percent of the unused P11.9-billion ($238.2 million) allocated for health workers’ SRA and hazard pay, which the COA recently flagged.
On the ground, there are reports of Filipino nurses receiving only P2,000 to P3,000 SRA for six months of duty, which Filipino Nurses United Secretary General Jocelyn Andamo described in a television interview as “terrible, frustrating, and infuriating for many of us.”
“Secretary Duque and President Duterte are mistaken in thinking that the growing anger of the health workers can only be appeased by providing a meager budget where only a few have received,” AHW President Robert Mendoza said.
In Manila, health workers took the streets and held a protest action in front of the Department of Health, wearing their personal protective equipment and hospital uniforms. Health workers, who wore red arm bands while on duty, also led protest actions in Baguio, Isabela, Bulacan, Pampanga, Samar, Leyte, Aklan, Iloilo.
Among their demands included Duque’s resignation, saying he is no longer fit to lead the health department.
Health workers said they have had enough of the irregularities that happened under Duque’s watch as health secretary, including the recurring expired medicines in COA reports, the P15-billion PhilHealth scandal, the P11.9-billion unused funds for health workers’ SRA and hazard pay, and the P67.32-billion disbursement and expenditures of DOH COVID-19 response fund that the COA flagged recently.
Health workers also called for the release of their meals and transportation allowance, as well as the long-overdue pay increase.
Mendoza said, “the deadline we set with the DOH to grant our COVID-19 benefits is finally over. Our patience with Sec Duque is also over. A year has passed, but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the COVID-19 issue remains. Enough is enough! Now, let him face our collective call for him to step down and be accountable for his wrongdoings especially in ensuring our health, safety and welfare.” (RVO)