Bong Go pushes gov't to release Bayanihan 1 compensation for COVID-affected health workers

By Mario Casayuran

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go urged the Executive department on Friday (June 5) to ensure that the objectives and commitments under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) would be fulfilled.

Sen. Bong Go (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN) Sen. Bong Go
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Go said the incomplete delivery of such commitments, particularly to medical frontliners affected by COVID-19, is ‘’unacceptable.’’

He issued the statement after delivering a privilege speech in last Wednesday’s Senate plenary session lambasting concerned government agencies, particularly the Department of Health (DOH), for their failure to extend the financial assistance to medical frontliners who died of or were infected by the coronavirus and hospitalized.

Bayanihan 1 mandates government to give P100,000 to those infected by COVID -19, and P1 million to the families of medical workers who died of the disease after caring for COVID-19 patients.

Thirty-two of them have so far died while hundreds of others were infected.

Lack of IRR

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also said he is dismayed that the families of health frontliners who died treating COVID-19 patients have not received the benefits accorded by Bayanihan Act 1 all because of the lack of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) needed to operationalize the law.

"Ito ay tahasang pagpapakita ng kawalan ng awa ng sinuman sa DoH (Department of Health) na dapat ay nagresolba nito sa pamamagitan ng IRR (This is the outright manifestation of the lack of compassion of whoever at DOH was supposed to resolve this through an IRR),’’ Pangilinan said.

"Hindi ito katanggap-tanggap at hindi dapat palampasin. Sila ay namatay na. Sila ay naghirap na. At ngayon, hinahayaan natin ang kanilang mga pamilya na magdusa pa dahil sa kabiguan at kawalang aksiyon mula sa Department of Health (This is unacceptable and must not be brushed off. They died. They suffered. And now we are letting their families suffer more because of disappointment and the lack of action from the DOH),’’ he added.

Three months' inaction

What angered Go was that three months have passed since Bayanihan 1 was passed in late March, but not one of the frontliners who died or got infected and hospitalized were given financial assistance.

Go is the chairman of the Senate health committee and a member of theJoint Congressional Oversight Committee on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“Nagtiwala kaming mga mambabatas na magagawa ng mga ahensya ang lahat ng kanilang makakaya (We lawmakers trusted that the agencies would do all they can) within that limited period that the law is in effect. Ngayon na pinag-uusapan na ng lehislatibo ang panukalang Bayanihan to Recover as One Act o ang Bayanihan 2 Act, hindi katanggap-tanggap ‘yung mga dapat naibigay noon ay hindi pa rin naibibigay ngayon (Now that the legislative is discussing Bayanihan 2 it is unacceptable that what should have been given before still hasn't been given now),” he added.

The Senate failed to pass the proposed Bayanihan Act 2 when it adjourned sine die last Wednesday night because Malacanang did not certify the bill as urgent so that the period of second and third readings would be circumvented.

“I call upon the concerned agencies to remedy this immediately and release the rightful compensation for our health workers who have died of or have been infected by COVID-19, as provided by law,” Go said.

“Si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte rin mismo ang nagsabi na dapat mabigyan ng karampatang suporta ang ating health workers at ang kanilang mga pamilyang naulila. Kaya dapat na ibigay ang dapat ibigay. Huwag nating hayaan na mabalewala ang layuning ito dahil natagalan ang proseso (President Duterte himself said that the appropriate aid should be given to our health workers and their orphaned families. What should be given must be given. Let us not allow such an ideal objective to be disregarded because of red tape),” the Senator added, highlighting that the President himself emphasized the need to pay the health frontliners as they are risking their lives.

Heads must roll

In a media interview Friday, Go said heads must roll on the issue of the delayed compensation for medical frontliners, adding that the President has expressed his anger over the delay.

“Siguradong may matatanggal talaga diyan, may mananagot. Galit na po ang Pangulo kanina nakausap ko. Sinabi nya kay Secretary Roque galit na siya. Sinabi rin niya sa akin galit na rin po siya (I am sure someone will be fired, someone will be held accountable. The President was angry when I spoke to him earlier. He told Secretary Harry Roque he is angry. He also told me he is angry),” Go said.

Go was special assistant to President Duterte before joining the Senate.

Fighting for DOH's budget

Expressing his own frustration and disappointment over the delay, the senator from Davao also recounted how he fought for the budget of the health department to ensure that its offices retain their funding.

He recalled having pushed for the restoration of cuts in the DOH budget in the last budget hearings, particularly the budget for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

"Wala pa itong COVID na ito, ipinaglaban ko. Sabi ko ibalik, i-increase ninyo ang budget ng RITM. Sino ang mag-aakala na ‘yun pa pinakaimportanteng opisina ngayon? (Even before COVID, I fought for it. I said put it back, increase RITM's budget. Who would have thought that it is now the most important agency?)” Go said.

Go also said he fought for the restoration of the budget to pay for the salaries of health care workers to prevent their dismissal.

“Hindi lang ‘yun. Alam n’yo ba sweldo ng medical workers ay binawasan rin po, hindi isinali sa budget" Sabi ko, ibig sabihin mawawalan sila ng trabaho pagdating ng Enero? Hindi ako pumayag. Na-restore ang budget ng mga medical workers, nurses, doctors po ng DOH. Pina-restore ko ‘yung budget nila dun sa budget deliberation, ipinabalik ko talaga at ipinaglaban ko ito na maibalik (Not only that. Did you know they cut the salaries of medical workers, they didn't include it in the budget? I said, does that mean they'll lose their jobs in January? I didn't allow it. The budget for DOH's medical workers, nurses, doctors was restored. I had their budget restored in the budget deliberation, I made them return it and I fought for it to be returned ),” he said.

Let President decide

Go advise the public to let the concerned agencies act on the matter and investigate the issue and allow the President to decide.

“Mahirap itong laban na ito. Kita n’yo ang Pangulo, halos 24 hours nag-iisip kung ano po ang kabutihan ng bawat Pilipino. ‘Yan ang inuuna niya (This fight is difficult. Look at the President, for almost 24 hours he thinks what is good for every Filipino. That's what he puts first),” he added.

As for the families of health workers who have died of COVID-19 and frontliners who were severely affected by the coronavirus, Go said his office is always open for them.

In a June 1, 2020 DOH report, a total of 2,669 health workers -- nurses, physicians, nursing assistants, medical technologists, and radiologic technologists -- in the Philippines so far have been affected with COVID-19

“Our health workers are doing one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs against an unseen enemy — a sickness that until now has no cure. They have paid the ultimate price---their lives---so that the rest of their countrymen and women will continue to live,” Go said.

President Duterte has given the agencies involved until June 9 to release the compensation checks for health workers who died of or were infected with COVID-19.