LRay to new DOH chief: release P12.57B ‘unpaid’ Covid allowances

June 12, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 217 views

CAMARINES Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte is hoping that newly-appointed Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Teodoro Herbosa will make good on his “promise” on his first day in office to look into the speedy release of the unpaid health emergency allowances of healthcare workers (HCWs) and non-HCWs who had played a crucial role in saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For starters, Villafuerte said Herbosa should find out at the soonest what could be done about the P12.57 billion worth of health emergency allowances that the medical frontliners have yet to receive but which the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) claimed had been released already to the DOH.

“We hope that newly-appointed Secretary Ted (Herbosa), who is a longtimer in the healthcare sector, would deliver on his promise to give priority to looking into the still-unpaid COVID-19 allowances – and get to the bottom of what happened to the P12.5 billion in COVID-19 allowances that the DBM claimed to have released to the DOH months back but which have yet to be handed out by the health department to the intended beneficiary-HCWs and non-HCWs, as provided by law,” Villafuerte said.

“We want to know soon enough from the new Secretary when the DOH is going to release the balance of about P12.57 billion from the P19.96 billion in COVID-19 benefits and allowances of HCWs and non-HCWs for their medical services rendered to our people at the height of the pandemic that the DBM claimed to have released already to the health department,” he added.

Given the new DOH chief’s “impressive” record in the health sector, including stints as Special Adviser to the National Task Force Against Covid-19 and trauma division chief at the surgery department of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), “I assume Dr. Herbosa, as a medical frontliner himself, will agree with me that it doesn’t make sense that for all their life-saving efforts at the height of the pandemic, our HCWs and non-HCWs in hospitals and other health institutions have yet to receive the emergency allowances due them up this time when the WHO (World Health Organization) had already declared this global public health emergency as over,” said Villafuerte.

Aside from HCWs, the extra benefits also cover frontliners who are non-healthcare workers (non-HCWs), including those rendering medical, allied medical, administrative, technical, and support services in hospitals, health facilities, laboratories, medical or temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, and vaccination sites.

On his first day in office at the health department last June 7, Herbosa was quoted in the media as telling reporters he would “immediately” look into this issue of unpaid benefits of HCWs and non-HCWs.

“Kung may benefits sila na hindi pa naibibigay, na supposed to have been given, I’ll try to make sure that our Budget and Management and the Department of Health will be able to issue all of these things na hindi pa naibibigay. I’ll look into that… I’ll make sure lahat ng nagtrabaho at nagbigay ng serbisyo, mabigay ‘yung benefits nila… We need to solve this. Priority ko ‘to,” Herbosa said.

Villafuerte was the principal author in the House of Representatives of Republic Act (RA) 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” (Bayanihan 1), and RA 11494, or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” (Bayanihan 2) that provided for such extra benefits to HCWs and non-HCWs along with financial aid or “ayuda” to poor Filipino families, dislocated workers, and other Covid-hit sectors.

Now the president of the National Unity Party (NUP) and majority leader of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA), Villafuerte had co-authored as well RA 11712 or the “Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances for Healthcare Workers Act,” which assured the release of such extra pay for HCWs and non-HCWs even after the lapse of the two Bayanihan laws.

Taking the cudgels for HCWs and non-HCWs who claimed they have yet to receive their long-due COVID-19 allowances, Villafuerte earlier bewailed the delayed release of such benefits due to an estimated 20,000 healthcare workers.

Citing a United Private Hospital Unions of the Philippines (UPHUP) report, Villafuerte said that 20,304 HCWs have not received their law-mandated COVID-19 allowances and other benefits totaling P1.94 billion dating back from October 2021 onwards.

According to the UPHUP, the still-unpaid benefits of 20,304 HCWs totaled P1.84 billion – comprising One COVID-19 allowance (OCA) worth P985.6 million; P737.5 million worth of health emergency allowance (HEA); special risk allowance (SRA) totaling P16.8 million; and meals, accommodation and transportation (MAT) benefits reaching P6.7 million.

Reacting to this report, however, the DBM subsequently told the media there was no such delay in this (budget) department’s release of COVID-19 benefits and allowances.

The DBM claimed last month to have already released P19.96 billion to the DOH to pay for the public health emergency benefits and allowances of HCWs and non-HCWs, in accordance with RA 11469 and RA 11712.

It added that of the P19.96 billion in released funds, the DOH already utilized P7.39 billion as of March 31, 2023. “Rest assured that we will continue to coordinate with the DOH to ensure that the released funds will be disbursed accordingly,” the DBM said.

Villafuerte said that with this statement by the DBM, the question that begs to be answered by the DOH is this: “So where is the balance of P12.57 billion ostensibly released by the DBM for the payment of arrears in emergency benefits and allowances due our HCWs and non-HCWs?”

“This is something that the newly-appointed DOH Secretary needs to look into,” he said.

Villafuerte explained that RA 11712 entitled medical frontliners to a monthly HEA equivalent to P3,000 for healthworkers in low-risk areas; P6,000 for those in moderate-risk areas; and P9,000 for medical frontliners in high-risk places.

Then-President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 929 on March 16, 2020 declaring a six-month state of calamity across the country because of COVID-19.

The state of calamity was then extended by Mr. Duterte for a year up to Sept. 12, 2021 under Proclamation No. 1021, and again for one more year up to Sept. 12, 2022 under Proclamation No. 1218.

President Marcos Jr. extended the state of calamity till end-December 2022 when it lapsed in September last year, and announced that medical frontliners will continue to receive their COVID-19 allowances even if the state of calamity was no longer extended in 2023.

WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared last May 5 that the period of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) was over, and that it was “time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic” amid the declining trend in coronavirus-related deaths, lower hospitalization rates and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to the virus.

Villafuerte pointed out that RA 11712 was written by the 18th Congress to prevent a repeat of previous instances wherein many of our medical frontliners had complained about not getting on time the HEA due them for their invaluable services in caring for Covid-infected Filipinos since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.

He said the expiration of the effectivity of Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 had stood in the way of the full and immediate release of Covid-related benefits to our medical frontliners, hence the necessity of enacting RA 11712 to make sure HCWs and non-HCWs could get their monthly risk allowance for as long as the country remained in a state of public health emergency.

Under RA 11712, the supplemental benefits will have retroactive application from July 1, 2021.

Villafuerte said that apart from the HEA under RA 11712, HCWs infected with mild or moderate COVID-19 infection will each receive P15,000 in compensation, while those who contracted severe or critical coronavirus disease will get P100,000 each, he said.

The families of every HCWs and non-HCW who died of COVID-19 in the line of duty will receive P1 million, he added.