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MANILA, Philippines – Four presidential candidates on Sunday, February 27, promised to raise the salary of healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic response.
During the CNN Philippines Presidential Debate on Sunday, moderator Pia Hontiveros asked four candidates – namely, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, Senator Panfilo Lacson, Senator Manny Pacuqiao, and physician Jose Montermayor Jr. – this question: “Under your leadership, what would you do to keep our nurses here, other than reinforcing the annual limit of 5,000 healthcare workers deployed abroad? In other words, how will you encourage them to stay home and make a living here instead of going overseas?”
Pacquiao said if he wins the presidency, pay hike for health workers would be “automatic.”
“Kailangan itaas natin na hindi naman natin sinasabi na ipantay natin doon. Basta may dahilan lang na para sila dito magtrabaho at makapiling ang kanilang mga pamilya, hindi nila gugustuhin ‘yang mag-abroad sila para magtrabaho doon sa ibang bansa para mawalay sa kanilang pamilya. Ang gusto nila dito at kailangan lang bigyan din sila ng hustisya. Kaya pahalagahan po natin ‘yan at itaas natin ‘yang sahod,” he said.
(We need to raise their salary even though we can’t match compensations abroad. If we just give them reason to work here and stay with their family, they wouldn’t choose to leave the country and their families. What they want is to stay here, that’s why we need to give them justice. We need to value them and raise their salaries.)
For many years, Filipino nurses have been leaving the country after failed attempts at fighting for higher wages and better working conditions.
According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), an entry-level registered nurse receives an average salary of P8,000 ($160.39) to P13,500 ($270.66) per month.
Registered nurses hired by private hospitals commonly receive an average salary of P9,757 ($195.62) a month. In government facilities, starting salary of nurses is at P33,500 ($671.64).
Private health workers too
Lacson said that it was him and his running mate, Senator Vicente Sotto III who authored the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, which was enacted to ensure that health workers are properly compensated, which will in turn benefit patients through the delivery of quality health services.
“Marami pong mga packages na nakapaloob doon (There are a lot of benefit packages included there),” he said. Lacson, however, acknowledged that health workers from the private sector are being left behind as they are not covered by this law.
“Hindi naman po nating puwedeng pag-utusan ang pribadong sector na itaas din at abutin ‘yong suweldo ng salary-grade level ng mga government nurses. So ang solusyon naman doon is kailangan i-review natin ‘yong sa—meron naman tayong tripartite wage board na siyang tumitingin sa minimum wage ng ating mga manggagawa. Dapat i-review ‘yong suweldo ng mga pribadong sektor na nurses,” Lacson said.
(We cannot ask the private sector to also raise health workers’ salary and match the government’s level of compensation. So the solution there is to review – we have this tripartite wage board that oversees the minimum wage of workers. The salary of health workers from the private sector needs to be reviewed.)
Tripartite agreements are a regional mechanism to evaluate and raise the minimum wages for nurses. Lacson did not give a definitive call to raise their wages, but urged for these agreements to take effect.
Moreno, meanwhile, said he would push for job creation for nurses in their provinces so they would not think of moving to Metro Manila and abroad to find career opportunities.
“We will invest. I think we should, and we need na magising na tayo sa pandemyang ito na high time, napapanahon na, mamuhunan tayo sa kalusugan ng ating mga kababayan. Hindi lamang dapat mga band-aid solution (to rise from this pandemic. It’s about time we invest in the health of our countrymen. Band-aid solutions are not enough). Let’s look for 10, 15, 20 years from now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Montemayor took a swipe at the candidates: “Napakaganda ng mga sinabi ng ating mga kasama na mga presidentiables, pero hanggang salita lang ‘yan.” (Our fellow candidates said a lot of good things, but these are mere words.)
He boasted that he was among those who first filed petitions to lift the deployment ban of health workers in the country.
“Gumalaw tayo, hindi puro mamahalin natin. Bigyan natin ng malaking suweldo, those will remain words. Sinong nagkikipaglaban [para] sa mga nurses at the time of the pandemic? Dr. Jose Montemayor! Sinong nakikipaglaban sa mandatory vaccination? Dr. Joey Montemayor! Hindi ako nasa bahay lang at nagha-hire ako ng abogado. Ako mismo ang lumalaban para sa kanila,” he said.
(We need to act, not just say we should value them. Let’s give them high salary, those will remain words. Who has been fighting for the nurses at the time of the pandemic? Dr. Jose Montemayor! Who has been fighting against mandatory vaccination? Dr. Jose Montemayor! I’m not just at home and just hiring a lawyer. I’m the one fighting for them!
As the Philippines continues to fight the pandemic, health workers who are on the front lines continue to suffer from poor working conditions and delayed benefits. Delays in the release of their benefits had been the subject of congressional marathon hearings in 2021. – Rappler.com