Concerned that his agency will again be called out by the Commission on Audit (COA), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday, August 25, insisted the need for a law that would authorize the grant of special risk allowances (SRA) to health care workers who are not catering to COVID-19 patients.
Duque, at the second hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the COA’s reports on the Department of Health (DOH), said it would be “best” that a law be crafted first to allow the distribution of SRA to all medical workers in hospitals.
“The position of the DOH executive committee is that it would be best there be a law created to allow for [the] grant of SRA to not just those directly in care of the patients or n direct contact, but everyone in the facility owing to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. Everybody is at risk,” Duque told the Senate panel after groups of health workers sought clarification from the DOH.
While maintaining that he supports the calls for the expanded grant of SRAs, the health chief said they needed the legal basis to implement such.
“The liberal interpretaton cannot be a substitute for a legal basis for the grant. Gustong-gusto ko po talaga, gusto ko nang ibigay lahat ng pwedent ibigay. Ang problema lang talaga ay baka naman, sigurado ako, mako-COA kami (I really wanted to give it all to them. But the problem is, maybe, and I’m sure, that the COA will call us out),” he explained.
Duque earlier ranted against the COA for supposedly “destroying” the DOH in releasing its annual audit report to the public. State auditors, among others, flagged “various deficiencies in the agency’s handling of over P67 billion of COVID-19 response funds.
During last week’s Senate hearing, he said the DOH cannot give out SRAs to all health care workers since the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or Bayanihan 2 provided the benefit for those “directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients.”
Gordon, however, told Duque not to “pass it on” to lawmakers, saying the COA has already allowed a liberalized interpretation of the law.
“We are not under ideal circumstances now Our nurses, our health workers are there. The opinion can really be construed. I’m ready to file that bill. But, you said that you’re going to do that,” the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman said.
“If you’re not going to do that, then we still a problem, don’t we?” he told the DOH secretary.
Gordon advised Duque to “take the risk” pending legislation.
“Kung ako ikaw (If I were you), I would take the risk. ‘Di ko naman nanakawin ‘yan (I will not steal it anyway)…I will take the risk and I can promise, when you take that risk, we will try to pass the bill right away in the Senate,” said the senator, adding that his colleagues would support the move.
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara also said that even without a law on the SRA, the DOH can still release hazard allowance to health workers under the Magna Carta for Health Workers, which is still in force.
He said the hazard pay can be given in lieu of the SRA.
“I think there is a legal basis but we cannot force our interpretation upon the executive branch, and that is sad because you would think that they would take an interpretation that would favor their stakeholders, our health workers,” Angara said.
“Kung sino pa ‘yong naatasan sa pagbabantay sa ating health workers, sila pa ‘yong kumbaga hindi pabor sa pagbigay (But those tasked to look after our health workers would not favor the grant of the benefit),” he lamented.
Duque, in the hearing, said the Department of Budget of Management (DBM) has already issued to the DOH the release order for the P311 million worth of SRAs.
President Duterte previously ordered agencies to release the benefits of health workers within 10 days.