Health workers press for higher health budget, release of COVID-19 benefits

Health workers from the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRRMMC) staged a lunch break protest on Wednesday, Oct. 20, to press for a higher 2022 health budget and to demand the release of their unpaid COVID-19 benefits.

Health workers from Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center stage a lunch break protest on Wedneday, October 20, 2021, to press the Senate to increase the 2022 health budget and prioritize the health of the people (ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Today, the Senate Committee on Finance headed by Senator Pia Cayetano will hold its second briefing on the 2022 proposed budget of the DOH. We urge the honorable senators to scrutinize the DOH budget and prioritize the health and safety of health workers and the people.” JRRMMC Employees Union-Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) President Cristy Donguines said.

“We hope that the senators will listen to the plight of the health workers and the people whose livelihoods have been ruined and their health and safety at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of budget deliberation and the upcoming election, the political ambitions and aggrandizements should be set aside," she added.

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Donguines also lamented that 70 percent of health workers' meal, accommodation, and transportation allowance (MAT) has not been released by the Department of Health yet.

"Many fellow health workers in the DOH hospitals, private and local government hospitals have not tasted their MAT benefits, special risk allowance (SRA) and active hazard duty pay (AHDP) because to date, DOH has not provided them until now," she added.

"DOH kept on saying that they have already released these benefits, but where is it now? We call on Secretary Duque and the rest of the DOH officials to stop deceiving the health workers and the public. Enough of your lies and incompetence."

On Oct. 12, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said P15.9 billion worth of benefits has so far been released to frontline health workers.

Duque noted that about P617.2 have been given to around 48,000 health workers from the third and fourth batches of SRA worth P1.3 billion.

On Oct. 8, Duque asked Duterte to issue an executive order that would allow the Health department to release the MAT allowance of health workers who had not received the benefits under the Bayanihan 2, which expired on June 30 this year.

The MAT allowances which amount to PHP2.51 billion would be given to 423,000 healthcare workers.

The health workers also called on the national government to increase the health budget for 2022 by allotting P2.64 trillion to direct public health services and COVID-19 response.