Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Tuesday that he was not fully aware of the decision of his own office to suspend the implementation of the special risk allowance (SRA) for health workers under the Department of Health’s (DOH) offices.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, during the Senate’s third hearing on the alleged anomalies in the PhilHealth, raised to Duque the question of Department Memorandum No. 2020-0285 regarding the “suspension of implementation of the Special Risk Allowance”.
A copy of the memorandum was provided by a DOH nurse who has tested positive for COVID-19, she said.
“Wala pa silang SRA hanggang ngayon dahil sinuspend ng opisina niyo. (They still have no SRA because your office suspended it). This is an urgent query and I hope you can do something about it,” Hontiveros appealed.
The memo, issued by Duque’s own office last June 23, 2020 and signed by Undersecretary for administration and financial management Roger Tong-An under his authority, ordered the suspension of the SRA in the DOH central office, Bureau of Quarantine, Food and Drug Administration, and DOH Centers of Health Development.
The SRA is a one-time benefit given to public health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suspension was due to differences in the definition of “public health workers (PHWs) in President Duterte’s Administrative Order No. 28 and the Republic Act. No. 7305, or the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.
The different definitions “gave rise to different interpretation that affect the grant of SRA in the Department”, thus the suspension, while the lawyers in the agency review existing laws and regulations regarding the benefit.
Hontiveros said the suspension was ill-timed amid the government’s fight against the pandemic, and the latest order banning Filipino medical workers and allied health professionals from leaving the country.
Asked by Hontiveros about his action, Duque said: “Yes, I will certainly address this expeditiously and it’s not clear to me why this was suspended by Usec. Roger Tong-An.”
But Hontiveros said the memo had his official letterhead.
“Letterhead po ninyo, Office of the Secretary. Pumirma, yes, si Usec. Tong-An (Yes, Usec. Tong-An signed) but by the authority of the Secretary of Health kaya sa inyo ko po dinadala ito for urgent action in behalf of our frontliners na dapat lang naman siguro na may (who should be receiving the) special risk allowance now that they are bearing additional risk even compared to their usual risk everyday,” she pointed out.
“Yes, your honor, I will address this even now I’ll make an urgent call to address this,” Duque responded.
Duque, however, did not commit to revoke the memorandum as he asked for more time to study the matter.
“I will attend to this immediately,” he said.
Following Duque’s assurance, Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire, DOH spokesperson, clarified that the DOH did not suspend the provision of the SRA to the country’s public health care workers and said the memo covered only the DOH attached agencies.
“No, it’s not suspended,” Vergeire said in a text message to the Manila Bulletin when asked about the document.
Duque, during the hearing, also agreed with senators that the needs of medical frontliners should be given priority as they continue to risk their lives amid the health crisis.
“We are working on it to be more responsive and to really show to our health care workers how much the government is prioritizing them,” he said.