A total of P15,719,085,923 worth of benefits for healthcare workers has been released as of Nov. 26, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Sunday, Nov. 28.

In a statement, the DOH said that the disbursed amount was “based on the latest, reconciled figures reflected in the Statement of Allotment, Obligation and Balances (SAOB) and is part of the P16,229,088,025.2 total amount disbursed as updated last November 23, 2021, of which the difference is for reconciliation.”

The DOH said a total of P7,915,760,434 Special Risk Allowance (SRA) for 486,585 healthcare workers has been disbursed covering the period Dec. 20, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

Also, “P6,555,957,185 was disbursed as SRA and active hazard duty pay (AHDP) was released last year for 315,652 and 390,662 healthcare workers, respectively. Additionally, meals, accommodation, and transportation (MAT) benefits worth P1,231,098,680 have been received by 103,413 healthcare workers,” the DOH said.

The DOH said it is committed to recognizing the healthcare workers’ contribution in the country’s fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Hence, we aim to provide them with the compensation and benefits they deserve as stated in Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. We are continuously coordinating with local government units to fast track the disbursement of remaining SRA funds to eligible healthcare workers for the period of December 20, 2020 to June 30, 2020,” said DOH Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega.

The DOH also noted that pending requests for additional SRA funds for Batch 5 and Batch 6 would be evaluated by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “once releases for the previous batches have been fully disbursed.”

Moreover, the DOH clarified that “under Bayanihan 2, the provision of MAT benefits was for the convenience of healthcare workers, and to protect their families who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 as they travel from their homes to health facilities.”

“As these benefits were originally intended to be provided in-kind or as actual services, health facilities that were not able to disburse these amounts for such purpose, have opted to return unspent funds to the DOH before the year ended, to prevent reversion of funds to the Treasury. These funds, in turn, were used by the DOH to support other requirements for the pandemic response,” the DOH said.

The Health department said it recognized that some healthcare workers have not been able to receive the MAT benefits yet.

“The DOH is continuously working with DBM and the Office of the President “to secure funding and appropriate authority to provide the MAT retroactively to those who have yet to receive it.”

The DOH, meanwhile, noted that the benefits for medical frontliners “have certain limitations as to their scope and coverage period.”

“In the case of the AHDP, it can no longer be granted beyond December 19, 2020. While the grant of SRA is only until June 30, 2021. Moreover, under Bayanihan 2 entitlement to SRA has been limited to those directly catering or exposed to COVID-19 patients as clarified by the Department of Justice, thus the said benefit cannot be provided to all healthcare workers,” the DOH explained.

“Given these limitations, the DOH has supported ongoing legislative initiatives for the continued provision of benefits for our healthcare workers. The Department is also improving and streamlining its processes to ensure that benefits are equitably and promptly distributed,” it added.

With this, the DOH said it is supporting for the passage of Senate Bill 2421, a measure that aims to provide continuing COVID-19 Benefits to public and private health workers during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The said bill grants a unified healthcare worker benefit to all private and public health workers based on risk categorization in the spirit of equity,” said Vega.