'Modern heroes' enraged: Metro Manila healthcare workers rally for release of allowances, resignation of Duque

Published August 30, 2021, 12:09 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Often refered to as “modern-day heroes,” healthworkers in major hospitals in Metro Manila held simultaneous protests on National Heroes Day on Monday, Aug. 30, to demand from the government the resignation of Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Francisco Duque III and the immediate release of their benefits stipulated in the Bayanihan Act to Recover as One (BARO) or Bayanihan 2.

A Manila health worker prepares to administer a single-shot Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen coronavirus vaccine during the inoculative drive at the Justo Lucban Elementary School in Manila on July 21, 2021. (Ali Vicoy/Manila Bulletin)

Donell Siazon, union president of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital, said they “have nothing to celebrate” despite the holiday due to the supposedly failed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response of the government.

“We have always been referred to as ‘modern heroes’ for our hard work and dedication. Despite the worsening pandemic, [we] are now [on] the streets to demand benefits for all healthcare workers,” Siazon said.

“We are outraged at the injustice and systematic neglect inflicted upon us by the government,” he added.

In a rally along E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, the protesters pushed for the release of the medical frontliners’ Special Risk Allowance (SRA); meals, accommodation, and travel allowances; life insurance; and other benefits under the Bayanihan 2.

The simultaneous protests were also participated by labor unions of St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City, Metropolitan General Hospital, The Medical City, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, and Calamba Medical Center.

They also called for the inclusion of all hospital employees in the coverage of SRA and demanded the removal of Duque from office.

Jao Clumia, president of St. Luke’s Medical Center Employees Association, said many workers have not yet received their benefits under the Bayanihan 2 which already lapsed on June 30.

“The deadline of President Duterte to the Health and Budget departments is to expire as well but still, all we hear from Sec. Duque are alibis and more finger pointing,” Clumia said, referring to the order of Duterte to Duque and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) last Aug. 21 to pay the allowances and benefits due to all medical frontliners within 10 days or until Aug. 31.

The labor leaders warned that if Malacanang continues to support Duque, they “will be forced to oust him from office themselves.”

They said that the protests were part of a bigger rally for the planned “National Day of Action for the Protection of Healthcare Workers” in the first week of September.

The government and Secretary Duque have come under fire as the country battles a worsening COVID-19 situation, with daily cases reaching record-high in recent weeks.

The Commission on Audit also flagged the DOH due to “deficiencies” on the management of P67.3 billion worth of pandemic funds but the department clarified it already resolved “most” of the findings.

The Senate and House of Representatives also initiated independent investigations on the DOH’s COVID-19 pandemic response.