Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said special risk allowances (SRAs) for health care workers are ready for distribution beginning today.
At a congressional hearing, Duque told legislators that a total of P311 million fund to finance the SRAs of more than 20,000 health care workers have already been identified and the amount would be sourced from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund.
Duque made the statement a few days after President Duterte directed both the Health secretary and the Budget department to pay the already delayed allowances to frontliners within 10 days.
Duque said that Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie L. Canada assured him of the availability of the funds.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Duque said the Department of Health has been in close coordination with the DBM, Center for Health Development, local authorities, and hospitals to process the release of the SRA.
“I have also given marching orders to concerned offices to comply with the directives of the President on distributing SRA to our health care workers within 10 days,” he said.
The DBM also assured health workers that their SRA would be released within 10 days.
The DOH gave hospitals until Thursday, Aug. 26, to submit the requirements for health workers to claim their benefits such as the SRA.
However, Health workers on Tuesday appealed to the DOH for the release of the list of requirements for them to avail of their meal, accommodation, and transportation (MAT) allowances.
The DOH has yet to announce the requirements a day before the supposed deadline for claims, said Donnel Siazon, union president of UST Hospital.
“Can we call on the DOH to cascade all the list of requirement templates to hospitals? Maybe we can beat the deadline tomorrow,” he said in an interview on ANC.
The MAT allowance is non-commutable or will be distributed to hospital management instead of health workers despite no transportation being provided, Siazon added.
“It seems to us that we will receive nothing because they will give it to management,” he said.
Health workers have yet to receive their special risk allowance despite complying with requirements before Bayanihan 2 lapsed in June, Siazon said.
"After all the tedious requirements–we were able to comply with the requirements needed. This is what hurts, it's like we’re still begging," he said.
He warned that health workers are considering a strike or a "medical lockdown" if they do not receive their benefits soon.
When asked if the strike would push through, Siazon said the group still has to talk with other local unions.
A fixed amount of MAT allowance would "simplify the process" as health workers won't need to present documents to claim their benefit, said Quezon 4th District Rep. Angelina Tan.
“We could have computed it at a fixed rate. What they did was the employee still needed to comply with documents,” she said.
“We understand naman that they need the attached documents for COA audit. But I think they could have simplified it and hastened the implementation,” she said.
Meanwhile, the largest nurses’ organization in the country Filipino Nurses United (FNU) started on Monday a 10-day countdown on the expected release of health workers’ long overdue benefits following a deadline set by President Duterte.
FNU president Maristela Abenojar said the countdown would run from Aug. 23 to Sept. 1.
“We expect that, by this time, they have started reviewing the list of health workers who will receive benefits,” Abenojar said in an online forum.
“We expect that all health workers will be included here, not just the regular employees.”
The FNU is a national organization of nurses which has the lead role in fighting for nurses’ rights and welfare.
It is demanding the immediate release of delayed benefits for all health workers, including the special risk allowance, active hazard duty pay, allowances for meals, accommodation, transportation, life insurance and death and illness compensation.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Risa Hontiveros questioned the flippant attitude of the administration towards the issues plaguing the country’s overall response to the pandemic.
The statement came as the President said he would stand by Duque, even if it brings him down.
"Secretary Duque suffers from a serious case of incompetence,” the senator said.
Hontiveros also expressed serious reservations about the President’s statements over the weekend that the Commission on Audit (COA) should “reconfigure” its findings about deficiencies in the DOH’s handling of COVID-19 funds.
“If there is anything to configure or reconfigure, it is solely at the discretion of COA and the President should not interfere," Hontiveros said.
"Why is the President telling the COA to reconfigure? Why should the COA say there is no corruption here? Why should he preempt any investigation on fraud, graft and corruption, and other such malpractices?” she asked.