The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) joined by various healthcare workers (HCWs) garbed in their personal-protective equipment and protested in front of the Senate gate on November 16 to demand higher health budget appropriation, salary increase, and the release of their long-overdue COVID-19 benefits. 

HCWs further denounced the slashed budget for Maintenance and Other Operating Expense (MOOE), among government-owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCC) hospitals.

“The actual DOH budget allotment for the Office of the Secretary under the National Expenditure Program (NEP) is only P 157 Billion. This budget is a manifestation of the government’s insincerity to resolve the pandemic.” said Alliance of Health Workers national secretary-general Benjamin Santos.

HCWs said that the proposed P226 billion budget of the Department of Health (DOH) would not address the chronic problem and issues of the country’s health human resources especially in line with low salaries and job security.

“Likewise, the non-prioritization of health in the national budget appropriation is a gross and criminal neglect of the Duterte administration to ensure people’s health during this health crisis,” Santos added.

They also expressed deep concerns for their patients as they believe that slashing the MOOE budget of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) as a National Reference Laboratory (NRL) is the government’s way of preparing for the RITM’s closure.

AHW said that the Duterte administration’s immediate rush in passing the House Bill 9560 or also known as the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (PCDC) Act, does not provide provisions for the continuation of medical services for patients with infectious and tropical diseases. Thus, RITM will be eventually abolished.

“Health budget cuts will only result in further weakening of public health as the government increasingly abandons its primary obligation to protect and promote the health of its citizenry. This has bled the people dry of their already meager resources which are not even enough to support a decent life, what more to pay for their health care,” Santos stressed.

The group also criticized politicians and lawmakers, especially in the upcoming election. They affirmed to first address the welfare of the Filipino people, where many are still getting infected and dying due to COVID-19 and other illnesses without getting proper medical attention because of a meager health budget.

“For almost two years now, we health workers are at the forefront risking our life and safety in fighting COVID-19 pandemic and many from our ranks have died due to the virulent virus. We are being called heroes but have never been truly valued because until now our salaries remain low. It is even more disheartening that apart from the unpaid and long overdue COVID-19 benefits, the DOH and the Duterte government intentionally did not allot funds for our COVID-19 benefits for the year 2022,” Santos expressed.

AHW likewise warmly welcomed the move of the Senate to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) from P28B to P4B to realign the funds for the health workers’ COVID-19 benefits and crucial pandemic response programs.

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