January 25, 2022
MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday defended its policy which would determine the allowance of health-care workers based on their risk level classification amid accusations that it was discriminatory and divisive.
“This is not discriminatory. We have to remember… the objective of giving this additional benefit. We call it a special risk allowance because we know that because of this pandemic, our health-care workers have this additional risk to them, and this risk should be classified,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a television interview.
“We have health-care workers [who] are really not on the front lines, just like us in the DOH who are office-based, so we are not under the high-risk classification,” she told CNN Philippines.
On Jan. 20, the DOH said it would replace the meals, accommodation and transportation allowance, active hazard duty pay and special risk allowance (SRA) given to health-care workers with the One COVID-19 Allowance (OCA), which it described as “more inclusive and responsive.”
A single allowance for health workers involved in the COVID-19 response, the OCA would be based on their exposure classification—specifically the type of health facility they work in, the work setting and their nature of work.
Those considered high risk would receive a monthly OCA of P9,000 while those classified as moderate or low risk shall get P6,000 and P3,000, respectively. They must also be on duty for a specific number of days to qualify for the incentive.
According to Vergeire, the policy was not intended to be discriminatory, adding that the new compensation system was meant to “streamline everything and make transaction more efficient.”
“Before, what we did was we compute and we try to verify all the submissions for specific benefits. But now, without having to reduce the amount that we give to health-care workers, we will just make it as one,” she said.
“Nothing was taken out. We just consolidated it so our health-care workers would be able to accept the benefits regularly,” the DOH official added.
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and Filipino Nurses United (FNU), however, opposed the policy, calling it discriminatory and divisive. Both groups said that all health-care workers, regardless of their workplaces, were equally at high risk.
AHW stressed that the DOH should give adequate and equitable compensation to all health front-liners in recognition of their dedication and commitment as they risk their lives to serve the people.
“Every health worker’s role is greatly valued as they are at high risk, thus there is no moderate and low risk,” it said in a statement.
FNU, on the other hand, said the singular-allowance policy was an unjust cost-cutting measure that “[reflected] the government’s low regard for the selfless work and sacrifice exerted by health workers in [the midst of a] pandemic.”
At the House of Representatives, the committee on appropriations on Monday approved the Public Health Emergency Benefits for Health Workers Act, which seeks to grant continuous allowances and benefits to public and private health workers, including those at the barangay level.
Under the still unnumbered substitute bill, the government would be mandated to provide a special risk allowance, much like the DOH’s proposed OCA, to all health workers for every month of service during a state of public health emergency based on their risk exposure categorization.
Those deployed in “low-risk areas” would receive at least P3,000 while those in “medium-risk areas” were entitled to at least P6,000. On the other hand, those in “high-risk areas” would get around P9,000.
P1M death compensation
The proposed bill also provides compensation for those who contract COVID-19 or other diseases in the line of duty during a state of public health emergency.
In case of death, their heirs would receive P1 million. Health workers who would end up in severe or critical condition would get P100,000 while those classified as mild or moderate cases would receive P15,000.
The original consolidated bills tackled by the House committee had proposed additional benefits for medical front-liners such as a P5,000 active hazard duty pay as well as life insurance and accommodation, transportation and meal allowances every month.
But the committee recommended that these be scrapped as the DOH pushed for a more inclusive and “singular” COVID-19 allowance for health workers.
“While the Department of Health supports the intent propounded by the bills, it, however, proposes that a singular allowance will be offered, which will cover and substitute for all the benefits enumerated in the bills,” Assistant Health Secretary Maylene Beltran said during the hearing.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago questioned the amendments to the original bill and said they would raise their concerns once it reached the plenary.