Sotto to DOH: release compensation for deceased, infected health workers

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola 

The Senate has sent a "very strongly-worded letter" to the Department of Health (DOH) after finding out that the agency has yet to release its compensation for health workers who died or were infected with the COVID-19.

In a teleconference meeting with reporters Wednesday, June 3, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he wrote to DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III about the implementation of Section 4(f) of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469).

Senator Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN) Senator Vicente Sotto III
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

"I already acted on it, I sent a letter just now, a very strongly-worded letter to the DOH on why they have not implemented that part of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act," the Senate leader said.

"Dapat 'yong mga nasaktan, nagkasakit, at 'yong mga namatay na health workers, dapat kino-compensate na (They should already be compensating the health workers who were hurt, got sick, or have died due to COVID-19). Dapat noon pa lang, magda-dalawang buwan na, eh (It should have been done, it's been two months). Dapat inuna nila 'yon (They should have prioritized that)," he added.

Philippine Red Cross chairman and Senator Richard Gordon said 32 health workers have died due to the novel coronavirus, while over 2,600 contracted the disease.

Section 4(f) of the RA 11469 states that they should given a P1-million death compensation and P100,000 compensation for those who were "severely" ill due to COVID-19.

But no one, since the enactment of the RA 11469, have so far availed of these benefits.

"We are told that because there is no IRR (implementing rules and regulations), no one has been able to avail of it," said Senator Juan Eduardo Angara, quoting DOH officials during their plenary debates on the Senate Bill No. 1564 or proposed "Bayanihan to Recover as One" Act.

Senators expressed their dismay over this revelation.

"Huwag niyo kaming gagamitan ng palusot na IRR...Sapagkat pag pinasa 'yong batas, batas 'yon. Hindi sinabi na kailangan may IRR muna bago ipatupad 'yong batas. 'Wag niyong gagamiting palusot sa amin 'yong IRR, kailangan i-implement nila 'yan. Ang dami-daming pondo ang hawak nila, eh," Sotto said, citing the letter to Duque.

IRR not needed

In the letter released to media later, Sotto, a principal author of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, lectured Duque on the DOH's explanation that they needed an IRR to implement this provision.

"No law has mandated that for any law to be effective an IRR is necessary," he said, citing his experience a lawmaker for over two decades.

"An IRR is being specifically required in some laws so as the stakeholders will be guided in its implementation. But, a law's effectivity does not and cannot rely on the IRR's existence or nonexistence, especially if the provisions of the law is clear and categorical," he explained.

"Assuming arguendo that an IRR is indispensable in the implementation of Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, particularly on the grant of compensation to affected health workers or their families, then what hindered your office to

draft and approved the said IRR for the past two months?" he asked.

Sotto also stressed that government has provided funds for the programs under the RA 11469, which included the compensation. "So, all the more reason for it to be implemented without delay and difficulty," he noted.

He then chided the DOH chief for failing to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of the the country's health workers amid the pandemic.

"Their being so-called COVID-19 heroes and the accolades they received each day are enough reminders tor them to get noticed by everyone, including you. But it seems that you pay no heed to these facts," Sotto told Duque.

"While I understand that this pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, let it not be the reason for your failure to do what is expected of you as the Secretary of Health and the Chairperson of the IATF. May I remind you that we, as public servants, are duty-bound to cushion the effects that this pandemic brings and not to add to the problem or, worst, to be the problem and source of panic and further uncertaintics in this already challenging world," he added.

Sotto urged Duque to "immediately implement" the Bayanihan Act's Section 4(f), and update him of its status "on a weekly basis."

"That's definitely unacceptable. They have to do it today," Sotto told reporters.