Cause for some disquiet

Cause for some disquiet

This week, health workers from different government-run hospitals in Manila staged a protest action right in front of the Department of Health gate in Santa Cruz to underline their grievances against the COVID-19 Active Hazard Duty Pay and Special Risk Allowance under Bayanihan Law 2 and its subsequent Administrative Orders 35 and 36, and DBM-DOH Joint Circulars 1 and 2.

We heard them, through the statement of Robert Mendoza, Association of Health Workers National President: “We are disappointed with the provisions for health workers’ benefits under Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan 2 which is reiterated in Joint Circulars 1 and 2, series 2020 of the DOH and the Department of Budget and Management.

“The law is selective which deceives and divides our ranks. It does not show its recognition for health workers’ sacrifices for helping in the mitigation of COVID-19.”

The referred to benefits of “Special Risk Allowance” are given to “health workers  directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients for every month that they are serving” while  “Active Hazard Duty Pay”  is given to temporarily hired Human Resources for Health to augment the current health workforce.

Another cause for concern is that the benefits are, in the view of AHW, pro-rated, meaning they are to be calculated on the actual number of days in a month of actual duty.

Then we hear another sentiment, this time from Ernesto Bulanadi, President of the Tondo Medical Center Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers: “As we enter the hospital gate, the threat of being infected due to COVID-19 is already there since this virus is an aerosol-borne. In a hospital setting, the virus does not select who and where to infect. Some of our ranks in non-COVID-19 areas and wards are infected even if the patient has been screened before.”

We take the AHW’s beef, that the Administrative Order 35 and 36 — which serve as the implementing guidelines for the grant of Active Hazard Duty Pay and COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance respectively – further bring more confusion and false hope to all health workers that they will all receive and enjoy the said benefits.

The DOH even went further in its press release on November 28, 2020: “As health workers, many of us in the DOH – including members of our Executive Committee, have experienced working on the ground, in our health facilities, which is why we understand the challenges in the front lines — being overworked, underpaid, demoralized, and in this pandemic, even more vulnerable.”

Let’s listen to Bulanadi: “We ask the DOH Secretary (Francisco Duque III) why he cannot defend and justify that all health workers reporting for duty within the premises of the hospital and health facilities deserve to get an equal COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance and Active Hazard Duty Pay.

He adds: “Where is the DOH’s concern for health workers during this difficult time of pandemic and health crisis, when one of our feet is already buried in the grave to help our government mitigate this virulent disease? We are not given with even a slightest benefit as a token recognition for the dangerous threat to our safety and lives.”

Perhaps the workers’ dismay may be dampened with reports that the House Committee on Ways and Means has approved in principle the consolidated measure seeking to provide a 25 percent discount to the personal income taxes of COVID-19 medical front liners.

During its meeting, the panel approved the unnumbered substitute bill consolidating House Bills 7351, 984, 2901, 3751, 7523, and 7978, which all sought to provide various forms of incentives to medical professionals providing services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

House panel chair Joey Salceda said the committee agreed to approve the measure “because we do not want to tax the hazard pays and other allowances earned by the front-liners from COVID-19.”

House Bill 7351 initially sought to exempt from taxation for 2020 medical and non-medical front liners who are directly serving, treating, caring, aiding and assisting COVID-19 patients.

However, the Department of Finance pointed out that doing so would entail a revenue loss of P9 billion.

In the meanwhile, we call on authorities to listen to the complaints of the tired and challenged front liners. They must not do anything less.

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