Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte on Wednesday appealed for the release of sickness and death benefits due to more than 126,000 health care workers (HCWs) as provided for in the two-month-old law signed by President Duterte.
Villafuerte said the law was enacted in recognition of the indispensable role of these medical frontliners in the country’s battle against the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“What has made this inapt hold-up more appalling is that the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) already announced way back in February that it has released P7.9 billion for the OCA (One Covid Allowance),” he said.
“So what is holding it up?” Villafuerte said, who was one of the principal authors of Republic Act (RA) No. 11712 or the Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances for Healthcare Workers Act that mandated the grant of sickness and death benefits to both HCWs and non-HCWs in the health sector.
He noted that “this slow up in the release of benefits has turned on its head RA 11712, which President Duterte enacted into law last April to institutionalize the sickness and death benefits of health frontliners who, in the performance of their crucial duties amid the global health crisis, had contracted or may contract Covid-19.”
Villafuerte issued this statement following reports quoting Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP) president Jose Rene de Grano that many private health workers have yet to receive the benefits due them under the OCA.
Confirming the fund release delay, DOH Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega was reported as saying last weekend in a radio interview that only 400,000 of 526,727 HCWs have already received their OCA.
Vega said he had discussed this matter and asked if De Grano can provide the list of hospitals whose HCWs have not yet received their benefits. In a recent Laging Handa briefing at Malacañang, De Grano claimed certain private hospitals have yet to receive the allowance for health workers.
Villafuerte said the grant of such extra pay to our medical frontliners was provided for in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11469) and Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (RA 11494), which the Congress had passed to strengthen the country’s Covid-19 response and ensure state support for pandemic-hit sectors.
“The expiration of the effectivity of Bayanihan 1 (RA 11469) and Bayanihan 2 (RA 11494) had stood in the way, however, of the full implementation of the Covid-related benefits for our medical frontliners, hence the necessity of enacting this measure into law to make sure that our healthcare workers are able to get their monthly risk allowance for as long as the country remains in a state of public health emergency,” said Villafuerte, who was the principal author in the House of both the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.
Earlier reports claimed that the DOH announced in May that it has released over P86.5 million to 54 health facilities, while another P403.4 million earmarked for 266 health facilities were “readily available,” pending their submission of required documents.
Under RA 11712, frontline HCWs and non-HCWs identified to be at high risk areas for Covid-19 are each entitled to P9,000 per month in extra benefits; and those at moderate- and low-risk shall places will each get a respective monthly allowance of P6,000 and P3,000
Such benefits are retroactive to July 1, 2021, according to this law co-authored by Villafuerte.