Health care workers consisting mostly of nurses belonging to the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) and Filipino Nurses United (FNU) threatened the government they would resign en masse for the failure of the Duterte administration to give the benefits due them 

In a television interview, PNA national president Melbert Reyes said that as much as they discourage the option of mass resignation, they can’t stop health-care workers from doing so.

“Di natin sila masisisi kung gagawin nila ‘yan,” said Reyes, stressing that the nurses don’t feel the appreciation and concern from government.

Citing data from the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Reyes said that around 40 percent of private hospital nurses have already quit their jobs.

The FNU, on the other hand, said they still can’t receive the “special risk allowance” (SRA) from the Department of Health (DOH).

FNU President Maristela Abenojar, said that the monthly PHP5,000 SRA was stipulated under Bayanihan Law for health-care workers.

Health workers’ groups whose members have been waiting for benefits and allowances said they are even more angry at not receiving these benefits after state auditors flagged “deficiencies” in the Department of Health’s Covid-19 spending.

The Commission on Audit in its yearly report said these deficiencies “contributed to the challenges encountered and missed opportunities by the DOH during the state of calamity/national emergency.”  

Abenojar said they were surprised and angered to find that a huge amount of funds from the DOH were “unutilized or mis-utilized.”

But the DOH clarified that the allege “deficiencies” in the management of PHP275.9 million in cash allowances, gift certificates and grocery items, cited in the Commission on Audit (COA) 2020 Consolidated Annual Audit Report, have already been settled with the issuance of Presidential Memorandum dated June 1.

Under Republic Act 11494 or Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, health-care workers are entitled to meals, accommodations, and transportation benefits. To provide these benefits to health-care workers, the DOH downloaded PHP2.4 billion to centers for health development, DOH hospitals, and specialty hospitals.

“To immediately distribute these benefits, given the challenges of providing actual meals to health-care workers who do not follow regular break schedules, some hospitals and facilities opted to provide the benefits through cash, grocery vouchers, grocery items, and the like,” the DOH said.

However, the DOH stressed that state auditors disagreed and recommended the return of the allowances already paid.

“The DOH took up the cause of our health-care workers and requested the Office of the President for presidential imprimatur to allow the provision of these benefits in cash equivalents,” the DOH claimed.

Abenojar said they went so far as to propose some measures the government could take to strengthen its pandemic response. That included a call for mass hiring of nurses as additional health workers in Covid referral hospitals and barangays. She said these suggestions went unheeded.

The DOH eventually shifted to emergency hiring, which Abenojar said, is a form of contractualization, as medical workers are hired as contract of service with no benefits accorded to them. 

“Now that we learned about the PHP67.32 billion, we feel so angry about this because it only shows the mis-prioritization of our government and their outright neglect of the concerns or the plight of our health workers,” she added.

Robert Mendoza, who leads the Alliance of Health Care Workers, shared Abenojar’s sentiment. He said: “If we don’t organize a rally, hold a dialogue, or send letters to the President, they will continue to withhold the benefits and it’s as if the DOH wants health workers to plead.”