Duterte gives DOH until June 9 to give cash benefits to virus-hit health workers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 4) — "Angry and frustrated" over the delay in the compensation of health workers infected with COVID-19, President Rodrigo Duterte is giving health authorities until June 9 to release the money.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in an online briefing on Thursday, said Duterte gave the order in response to the revelation made in a Senate hearing that no infected healthcare worker has received the benefits as promised in the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

The law, approved in March, grants ₱100,000 to healthcare workers with "severe" COVID-19 infection and ₱1 million to the families of those who died from the viral illness.

Three months since the law was passed, none has been given to any of the more than 2,600 medical frontliners who have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirty-two of them died.

"Galit, frustrated, at ngayon ko lang po nakita na talagang medyo uminit ang ulo ng Presidente... Binabalaan ko po ang mga otoridad. Sumunod po tayo," Roque said.

[Translation: The President is angry and frustrated. It's only now that I saw that the President got hot tempered... I am warning the authorities. Let us comply.]

READ: Gordon to DOH: No need for IRR, give COVID-19 health workers promised benefits

Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that the release of the sickness and death benefits was delayed as the agency needed to find the money to make the payments.

She said they earlier eyed charging the benefits to the Government Service Insurance System or Social Security System but later decided against it.

"Ating inexplore ang iba- ibang posibilidad para magawa natin itong sinasabi na provision na ito sa batas kaya medyo tayo ay natagalan," she said.

[Translation: We explored the different possibilities to implement this provision in the law that's why it took us time.]

In a virtual press briefing, Vergeire announced that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has signed a joint administrative order along with the Budget and Labor departments, instead of issuing implementing rules and regulations. The absence of an IRR was among the reasons earlier cited for the delay in health workers' compensation.

The funding will now come from the DOH's Medical Assistance Fund, which is currently at ₱100 million. A total of 79 healthcare workers who fell severely ill will receive ₱100,000, while the families of the 32 fatalities will get ₱1 million.

"Once they have completed the documentary requirements, we can immediately process the checks since the budget is ready already," Vergeire said.

The World Health Organization in April sounded the alarm over the high infection rate among healthcare workers in the Philippines, which the government said has improved following the purchase of more personal protective equipment for frontliners.