Senate approval seen on bill ensuring continued COVID-19 benefits for health workers

Senators have rallied behind the passage of a bill that would give the Philippines' health workers continued benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara sponsored on Wednesday, September 29, Senate Bill No. 2421, which provides COVID-19 benefits and allowances to public and private health workers during the state of public health emergency.

Twenty-one senators signed the committee report on the measure, which consolidates three similar bills on the matter.

"Hindi naman po lingid sa ating kaalaman 'yong hirap at pagod na nararanasan ng ating mga health workers (We are all aware about the hardship and exhaustion being experienced by our health workers)," Angara said in his speech.

"Tunay pong nakalulungkot na pagkatapos ng halos isa’t kalahating taon mula noong nagsimula ang pandemya, nakakarinig pa rin tayo ng mga kwento ng doktor at nars na kulang na kulang sa tulog, nade-depress at gamit tulad ng mga PPEs para matupad ang kanilang mahalagang propesyon (It's really sad that after more than a year since the pandemic started, we are still hearing reports that doctors and nurses are still deprived of sleep, getting depressed, and are lacking personal protective equipment that they need to perform their duties)," he added.

He noted that about 25,000 health workers have contracted the coronavirus since March, 2020, while deaths among their ranks have reached 105.

Senator Joel Villanueva also supported the bill, saying the benefits would be a "more appropriate" recognition for health care workers.

“We can shower our health care workers with words of admiration, praises and all kinds of love languages. I am sure that they will appreciate it. But action speaks louder than words," Villanueva said.

Senator Richard Gordon, a co-author to the bill, said the bill was also a product of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's inquiry on the delayed benefits of health frontliners.

"I hope for the swift passage of this bill, without forgetting that the Department of Health must find its way in getting and searching for the money so...mabilis na magagawa at mabayaran na agad ang dapat na bayaran (so that this will be implemented immediately and the benefits be given as soon as possible".

Under the bill, the national government shall grant all public and private health workers, regardless of employment status, a monthly "COVID-19 Risk Allowance", which shall be rated based on the following risk categorization:

• P3,000 for those deployed in “low risk" areas;

• P6,000 for "medium risk" areas; and

• P9,000 for those in “high risk" areas.

The allowance shall be given in addition to benefits provided by the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers (Republic Act No. 7305) and other forms of hazard pay arising from collective bargaining arrangements with private employers, Angara stressed.

Compensation shall also be given to any health worker that contracts COVID-19 in the line of duty, with the following amounts:

• P15,000 for mild or moderate cases of sickness;

• P100,000 when severe or critical; and

• P1 million in instances of death.

Further, regular COVID-19 tests of health workers shall be covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), at a frequency determined by the DOH. The PhilHealth should also cover the direct healthcare costs when a health worker is hospitalized due to COVID-19 infection.

The bill proposes a retroactive application from July 1, 2021, and shall remain in effect during a state of national public health emergency.

The Philippines has been under a state of public health emergency since President Duterte's declaration on March 8, 2020.

Earlier this month, Duterte also signed a proclamation extending until Sept. 12, 2022, the state of calamity in throughout the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.