Expired Bayanihan Law stalls compensation for coronavirus-hit health workers

Sofia Tomacruz
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says the Department of Health is in talks with other agencies for possible alternative funding sources

HIGH RISK. Manila health workers sanitize and take off their personal protective equipment after they conduct community testing for COVID-19 at San Andres, Manila on May 1, 2020. File photo by Dante Diosina Jr/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) said on Thursday, July 2, that it is  looking for alternative sources to compensate health workers who were severely infected or died due to the coronavirus after the Bayanihan Law expired on June 25.  

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire spoke of this latest development after a barangay health worker in Metro Manila died of COVID-19.  

The barangay health worker’s death was reported on July 1, or a week after the expiration of the Bayanihan law that promised benefits to health workers. The last death involving a health worker was reported on June 10. 

Hanggang hindi natin ipapatupad uli o nakakapaglabas uli ng another law for such para magiging basis natin, mahihirapan kaming makapaglabas ng ganyang amount, although ‘yung ibang mga benefits ay dapat maitutuloy especially for health care workers such as ‘yung mga benefits kapag ikaw ay namamatayan,” Vergeire told reporters during a press conference. 

(Until we have another law that would provide the basis for it, we will have difficulty releasing this kind of amount, although the benefits should continue to be given especially to health workers, such as benefits for those who died [of the disease].)  

The DOH said that as of July 2, of the 3,442 health care workers with COVID-19, one is in severe condition. At least 32 other patients who died and 42 others with severe cases were already compensated.

Under the Bayanihan law, severely infected health workers should receive P100,000 each, while the families of  health workers who died of COVID-19  should get P1 million each. 

Why does this matter? The DOH bares its search for alternative funds after Malacañang gave assurances that the expiration of the Bayanihan law would not affect funding of the government’s coronavirus efforts in the short term.  

In early June, lawmakers had expected President Rodrigo Duterte to certify Bayanihan 2 as urgent before Congress was adjourned. Malacañang did not issue the certification because the Department of Finance still had 32 amendments it wanted inserted in the Senate version of the bill. 

But with the large amount of funds that will be provided to coronavirus-hit health workers, the DOH needs a legal basis for the budget. 

Vergeire said the department is committed to finding funds to compensate health workers. 

“We have every intention to continue this but we cannot continue while there is no basis of law since we will be releasing money from the coffers of the national government and we need a sound basis for that whenever we do that. Usually it’s in the form of a law,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

What the DOH is doing now: Vergeire said the DOH was looking for other ways to source the needed funds and that it was coordinating with other government agencies that may be able to provide this in the absence of the Bayanihan 2 law.  

“We’re looking at GSIS and other agencies which can provide this basis for us to continue on providing compensation to these health care workers who died or have severe or critical COVID-19 infections,” she said  in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Malacañang earlier said Duterte would call for a special session of Congress when the Senate and House of Representatives finally agree on the standby fund the law would allow the Duterte administration to tap for coronavirus measures. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.