Pangilinan: Hasten release and fund hazard pay for COVID frontline health workers

WITH 16,764 frontline health workers yet to receive their hazard pay and risk allowance worth P108.3 million under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1), Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said that the Senate needs to immediately figure out how to provide funding for the frontliners who continue to risk their life every day.

“Bayanihan 1 yan. I assume tapos na yung service nila pero hindi sila mababayaran dahil wala nang pondo, wala nang budget appropriation for it. So that would be outstanding obligations and again, I understand the good sponsor would want these matters settled precisely because these are our frontliners and they continue to risk daily their lives as we combat this pandemic, this virus,” Pangilinan said, addressing Senator Pia Cayetano, who is sponsoring the DOH budget.

Speaking late Wednesday night during the Senate plenary deliberations for the budget of the Department of Health (DOH), Pangilinan clarified the status of the hazard pay and risk allowance under Bayanihan 1.

Cayetano said that 58,003 regular employees and 28,345 job order employees have been paid, amounting to over P842 million. However, 16,764 frontline health workers are yet to receive their hazard pay due to lack of funding, totaling to P108.3 million.

“This is concerning because a chunk of the Bayanihan 1 project was precisely dedicated to ensure we are honoring the hazardous duty of our frontline health workers as we continue to battle this pandemic. Bayanihan 1 passed June 25 — almost five months ago now. This means their pay is five months late. Funding this should be a priority,” Pangilinan added after the hearing.

 

Unpaid risk allowance under Bayanihan 2

For the Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2), meanwhile, Pangilinan questioned why the administrative order to issue active hazard pay and special risk allowance for frontline health workers was only issued early this week.

“We’d like to know the status of the releases of the special risk allowance because we need to provide all the support necessary for our frontliners. The concern is that in the last several days we have seen huge amounts of funds remain in the treasury or with the DBM and have not been released…The orders on the active hazard duty pay and COVID-19 special risk allowance, this is under Bayanihan 2, were only issued two days ago. May we be clarified what is the cause of this delay? As a follow-up question, it’s already November, when do they expect to receive these two allowances?” Pangilinan asked.

Administrative Order 35, dated 16 November 2020, provides for an active hazard pay of up to P3,000 per month to all frontline Human Resource for Health (HRH).

Administrative Order 36, meanwhile, mandates an additional COVID special risk allowance (SRA) not exceeding P5,000 to public and private health workers who directly cater to or in contact with COVID-19 patients

“The virus cannot be managed effectively [without the aid of our frontliners], and therefore everything else, like a domino, will fall in terms of our inability to provide confidence and of course, open our economy. So the support for our frontliners is critical,” Pangilinan said, to which Cayetano replied that 43,908 regular employees and 16,774 job order employees for a total of 60,682 HRH have already received their SRA.

The delay, according to Cayetano, is because the DOH is seeking clarification from the Department of Justice and various agencies as to whether public health workers at the Central and Regional Offices of the DOH are also entitled to receive the SRA under Bayanihan 2.

“We do not want to get into the bureaucratic quagmire or quicksand. In the same way that three months after we approved Bayanihan 1, none of those frontliners who fell and died because of the disease have received the support that was due them and the financial assistance that was due them,” Pangilinan said.

“We should not be again, I reiterate, become lost in the bureaucratic maze as we provide support for our frontliners,” he added.

The DOH is still awaiting legal opinion of the DOJ regarding the matter.

The plenary debates for the budget of the DOH concluded late Wednesday. The Senate is expected to conclude plenary debates for the 2021 budget by tomorrow, November 20, with deliberations on amendments starting next week.