Where’s aid for health workers? Govt asked as Bayanihan 3 chunk benefits military, police

June 1, 2021 - 6:53 PM
An armed police officer stands by a checkpoint placed to implement a curfew in the country's capital amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, in Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 16, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Some Filipinos urged the government to prioritize healthcare workers, the foremost frontliners in the country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, after a preview of the proposed “Bayanihan 3” circulated online.

“Bayanihan 3,” also known as the “Bayanihan To Arise As One Act,” is the third version of the “Bayanihan” bill, a law that was crafted to specifically address the public health crisis.

“Bayanihan 3” is a stimulus package worth P401 billion that seeks to address the economic and social impact of the pandemic in the country.

It was approved by the House of Representatives on third and final reading on Tuesday.

The measure allocates P54.6 billion for the pension of the military and the police, which was discovered to be the second biggest appropriation.

Philstar.com reported that it eclipses other funds “allocated for programs like wage subsidies, allowance for teachers and aid for the agri-fishery sector.”

The report added that authors of the bill “said the amount was meant to restore a deep budget cut in the pension and gratuity funds for soldiers and cops in the 2020 budget.”

“Observers argued it puts into question whether the cash-strapped government would spend on the right priorities amid the pandemic,” it said.

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, one of the authors of the bill, revealed that funds for the uniformed personnel’s pension were not part of the original six bills eventually consolidated to a singular substitute bill.

Quimbo claimed it was a “request” of the Department of Budget and Management, an executive body under the Office of the President.

The final version of the House Bill approved on Tuesday did not include the compensation for health workers. 

When the breakdown of “Bayanihan 3″‘s allocation was highlighted on social media, it didn’t amuse some Filipinos who reminded the government of healthcare workers’ efforts and sacrifices amid the pandemic.

“Hmm Bayanihan is supposed to be a response to this pandemic right? A health crisis? Why is it allocating for military and police PENSION. Emphasis on PENSION. Ibig sabihin after pa ng serbisyo nila. WHAT WE NEED IS COMPENSATION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS AND AYUDA… when? NOW!” a Twitter user wrote.

“This government always (gets) the priorities wrong. This is a health crisis, not a war. And don’t call it a ‘war on COVID-19,” another online user commented in response to the bill’s allocation for uniformed personnel.

“We’re in the middle of the pandemic and I understand that these men are putting their lives at stake too. However, the Health Department needs financial support, especially when our country is experiencing rapid growth of positive cases,” a different Twitter user said.

“Healthcare workers left the group,” Dr. Carlo Trinidad, a kidney doctor, wrote in response to the measure’s highlights.

Healthcare workers are the foremost frontliners in the fight against a pandemic tasked to treat those who are infected with the viral disease that has claimed more than 20,000 lives in the country.

Meanwhile, despite the passage of “Bayanihan 3” in the lower chamber, Senate President Vicente Sotto III admitted that it would be unlikely to be approved by the Senate before they adjourn session this week.

“There are differences and practically there is a very contentious issue in the Bayanihan 3… Kung ilang billions na being proposed for pension. We don’t feel that it should be included in the Bayanihan 3,” he said in an ANC interview on Monday.

Sotto said that they would like to prioritize funds for the procurement of COVID-19 medication and vaccines, the hiring of healthcare workers, their hazard pay, and testing and treatment under PhilHealth.

Last month, the Palace assured medical frontliners that they will receive their hazard pay and other benefits due to them.

President Rodrigo Duterte in November 2020 inked Administrative Order 35 that authorizes the grant of active hazard pay of up to P3,000 per month to human resources for health.

He also signed Administrative Order 36 which grants COVID-19 special risk allowance of up to P5,000 per month to private and public health works with direct exposure to COVID-19 patients.

On Tuesday evening, Duterte signed Administrative Order No. 42 granting special risk allowance for health workers catering to COVID-19 patients.

“The DBM shall release the funds for the payment of the SRA, consistent with existing budgeting, accounting and auditing laws, rules and regulations,” the order read.