Health workers of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) held a ‘noise barrage rally’ on June 21 to lambast the Department of Health (DOH) for not releasing the fund intended for their meal, accommodation and transportation benefit under Bayanihan Law 2.

“We will not stop our fight until the DOH return the funds allocated to our meal, accommodation and transportation benefits. The said benefit is a big help to alleviate the poverty and cope with the impact of low wages of health workers, especially now that there is pandemic and the prices of commodities are rising,” said Mr. Sean Velchez, RN, president, National Orthopedic Hospital Workers Union-Alliance of Health Workers (NOHWU-AHW).

The POC is a hospital specializing in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and is directly under the DOH. The DOH heads the Covid-19 policy making body of the government.

Bayanihan 2 is officially Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Republic Act 11494, enacted in September 2020. It was the second law passed in the country to grant additional powers to the president to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in the Philippines.

Section 4 (l) on response and recovery interventions of the said law cited “provision of life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals to all public and private health workers during the state of national emergency as declared by the President, regardless of the community quarantine status.”

The president extended the state of calamity declaration throughout the country from September 13, 2020 to September 12, 2021 via Proclamation No. 1021.

The group of Velchez said POC was forced to return the funds in compliance with the DOH Department Order No. 2020-0759 re: Guidelines for the Release, Utilization, Liquidation and Reporting of Funds to Cover Benefits of Healthcare Workers in Response to COVID-19 Health Emergency.

POC has an allotted fund amounting to P53,472,320.00 for meals, accommodation and transportation benefits.

The group also said POC health workers were provided only with cooked meals good for 13 days in December 2020. On the 1st week of January 2021, they received P7,300 worth of Gift Certificate.

The rest of the fund amounting to P35,535,162.85 was recalled by the DOH.

“Due to the relentless collective action of health workers to demand that this benefit must be given into cash, the Duterte government was pressured to release a memorandum dated June 1, granting CASH EQUIVALENT for meals, accommodation and transportation benefit for public and private health workers,” asserted the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).

On June 7, 2021, the group said that the POC hospital management wrote the DOH requesting for the issuance of Sub-Allotment Advice in the amount of P35,535,162.85 in view of the Memorandum released by the Office of the President.

But on June 8, 2021, DOH replied the “the funds which you returned to this Department were already repurposed for COVID-19 related activities or responses such as hiring of additional emergency HRH, vaccination program and compensation benefits of health workers who contracted with COVID-19 infection.”

The letter also cited the June 1 Memorandum of the Executive Secretary that stated the approval of the subject benefits covers only the period of September 15 to December 2020.

The letter was signed by Ms. Mylene M. Beltran, MPA, CESO III, OIC-Assistant Secretary of Health Administrative and Financial Management Team.

“We are disgusted with the DOH response to our hospital management’s request. First of all, the fund is intended and appropriated for health workers’ benefit. Why did DOH used it for COVID-19 related activities? Is this how you treat and value us, the modern day heroes?” reacted Velchez.

Photo from AHW

“The approval of President Duterte to release the said benefit into CASH is worthless. We, modern day heroes remain struggling to get the benefit we deserve. The relentless service and sacrifices we rendered as we risked our lives in battling COVID-19 pandemic were not valued by the DOH,” said Mr. Robert Mendoza, AHW national president.

Health workers are set to hold a protest on June 22, 2021 in front of the DOH gate in Manila.

“We are still committed and determined to continue the fight until we finally receive our meals, accommodation and transportation benefit. This benefit should be equally release in CASH to all health workers,” said Mendoza.

Manila Today has reached out to DOH for comment.


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