'Pinapaikot-ikot kami': Health workers amplify call for release of unpaid benefits ahead of SONA 2021

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 25) — A day before his last State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte was given another "failing mark," this time by healthcare workers whose calls for fair compensation and release of unpaid pandemic-related benefits persist.

Some medical workers from both private and public hospitals on Sunday said they have hardly felt the billions of pesos allocated for frontliners under the Bayanihan 1 and 2. For one, despite the significant budget, they said they have yet to receive their special risk allowance, or SRA.

"Pinapaikot-ikot lang kami," said Jao Clumia, president of the St. Luke's Medical Center Employees Association - Quezon City. "'Yung benepisyo umano ng mga health workers ay naipamigay na nila. Hindi po 'yun totoo."

[Translation: We are being given the run-around. They said the benefits of health workers have already been given to us. That's not true.]

Last month, the Department of Budget and Management said the payment of the SRA should be released not later than June 30, the same day the Bayanihan 2 expired.

"Nakakapanghinanakit lang, kasi ginawa ng mga health workers ang kanilang gampanin pero sa kakarampot na benepisyo ay hindi maibigay," said Jesus Obien, who heads the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center Employees Association.

[Translation: It's disheartening because health workers have done their jobs, but even the measly benefits weren't even accorded to us.]

Aside from the low pay and overdue incentives, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) National President Robert Mendoza said frontliners have long been overworked. While the Department of Health's standard ratio is one nurse for every 12 patients, Mendoza said the reality is that a single nurse would have to tend to around 35 — sometimes even up to 100 — patients at a time.

The pandemic, he said, further highlighted government neglect, driving them to occupational burnout.

"Binigyan natin ng grado ang Pangulong Duterte sa pagsupo dito sa COVID-19," he added. "Bagsak po siya sa amin sa Alliance of Health Workers, at 'di kami matatakot maningil bukas para sa kanyang kapabayaan sa mamamayan at mga manggagawang pangkalusugan."

[Translation: We already graded President Duterte on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's a failing mark from us in the Alliance of Health Workers, and we won't be afraid to hold him into account tomorrow for his neglect of the public and healthcare workers.]

According to the DOH, over 21,000 medical workers have been infected with COVID-19 as of July 23.

As the budget hearings also near, the AHW called on the government to allot at least 10% of the country's gross domestic product for COVID-19 response and public health services. It also renewed calls for the abolition of the state-run PhilHealth, which has been embroiled in massive corruption allegations, and instead realign the agency's budget to public hospitals nationwide.