A number of healthcare workers and labor leaders on August 30 warned that if Malacañangcontinues to support the embattled Health Sec. Francisco Duque III, they will be forced to oust him from office themselves.

Healthcare workers  in major hospitals in Metro Manila held simultaneous protests to demand from the government the immediate release of their benefits stipulated in the Bayanihan Act to Recover as One (BARO) or Bayanihan 2.

The healthcare workers also demanded the dissolution of the Department of Health – Center for Health Development (DOH-CHD) for its ineptitude in fulfilling its mandate to the medical frontliners.

They explained that their protests are only preparatory to their planned National Day of Action for the Protection of healthcare workers in the first week of September.

Other participants in the simultaneous protest are the 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.

At their protest along E. Rodriguez Avenue, Jao Clumia, president of St. Luke’s Medical Center Employees Association said, “Workers have not received and benefited from Bayanihan 2 and it  has already lapsed. The investigations held at both chambers of Congress have repeatedly identified the neglect of the DOH-CHD and  yet  Sec. Duque and his clique have remained unresponsive to our demands.”

“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 added.

 “Despite the holiday, we have nothing to celebrate. We have always been referred to as ‘modern heroes’ for our hard work and dedication despite the worsening pandemic.  We are now in the streets to demand benefits for all healthcare workers. We are outraged at the injustice and systematic neglect inflicted upon us by the government,” said Donell Siazon, union president of University of Santo Tomas Hospital.

The protesters pushed for immediate release of their Special Risk Allowance (SRA), meals, accommodation and travel allowances, life insurance and other benefits under Bayanihan 2 and the inclusion of all hospital employees in the benefits.

Meanwhile, health workers group  on Monday, National Heroes’ Day, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to  double their salary as Sen. Joel  Villanueva proposed a bigger 2022 allocation for the SRA and the COVID-19 Active Hazard Duty Pay (AHDP) in next year’s national budget.  

“If President Duterte can double the salary of policemen, I hope during the pandemic, he will have the political will to double the salary of our health workers,” said Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers.

Some health workers, he said, are yet to receive their special risk allowance (SRA) and other benefits, prompting  them to hold protest actions like rallies, noise barrage and walkouts. “The President calls us heroes but it’s only up to that point. When it comes to health, safety, and benefits, the President and the Department of Health don’t care,” lamented Mendoza.

Senate Labor committee chair Villanueva said funds for the two special pay allowances for medical front liners should be “rolled over” in next year’s national budget. 

He said “current rules and fund limitation” bar certain types of contractual workers from getting additional compensation for dangerous work despite facing the same hazards their colleagues are exposed to.

“The virus does not discriminate. Why does the government distinguish on who to pay or not?” he said. 

Initially authorized under the Bayanihan Laws, AHDP is given to public health workers, while the SRA covers health workers in public and private medical institutions.

Because a public health worker cannot receive more than PHP3,000 a month in AHDP, the maximum daily availment is PHP136 a day, Villanueva said. 

In the case of the SRA, the monthly pay out of the ceiling of PHP5,000 comes up to about PHP227 daily compensation for “COVID ward duty, which is one of the world’s most dangerous workplaces today,” he pointed out.

Villanueva said such pay rates should now change, the same way that the virus has mutated.

As to how much the increase will be, Villanueva said “the Senate, for sure, will collectively propose it once the supporting data are made available during the hearings for the 2022 national budget.” 

But he said “a 100-percent increase” in the SRA and the hazard pay can be the starting point of the discussion.

 “I am calling on the administration to do what is right by our frontliners and put an end to chronic indifference and ill-conceived policies. Citizens who have done their best to help our country live through this pandemic need more than patronizing words,” further said  Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

Mendoza said the  SRA is also given when an area is placed under enhanced community quarantine or modified ECQ.