Underpaid health workers walk out, call for Duque resignation at mass protests

Pandemic health workers who have had enough of the meager pay that comes with their dangerous job took to the streets to demand the release of long overdue benefits and the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Frontline health personnel from various assembly points in the capital region merged outside the DOH compound in Manila on Wednesday morning, September 1.

“Dapat ang ating mga health workers, sa panahon ng pandemya, ay patuloy na pinangangalagaan ng ating gobyerno. Ang daming namatay, ang dami na pong nagkasakit, ang dami nang nag-resign,” Alliance of Health Workers president Robert Mendoza said.

(Our health workers, in this time of pandemic, should be cared for by the government. Many have already died, fallen ill, or resigned.)

Prior to Wednesday, some health workers of various medical facilities such as the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, UST Hospital, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine had conducted demonstrations outside their own offices to call for the release of their hazard pay and other allowances.

They said Wednesday’s mass action was a result of Duque’s failure to meet the deadline they imposed on the release of their COVID-19 benefits.

Outside Metro Manila, demonstrations were also held in places such as Isabela, Baguio, Pampanga, Bulacan, Bacolod, Samar, and Leyte, the group said.

Special risk allowance

On August 25, the budget department told the Senate it had already released P311 million to pay for the special risk allowance (SRA) of over 20,000 health workers. This was on top of P7 billion worth of SRAs that the DOH said it had obligated from December 2020 to June 2021 for over 370,000 health workers.

But Filipino Nurses United pointed out that with 1.8 million health care workers in the country, the government’s efforts were obviously not enough to compensate everyone.

Senators had also grilled Duque for failing to be proactive in expanding SRA coverage. Under the law, only health workers who are directly treating COVID-19 patients could avail of such an allowance.

For over a year, frontline medical personnel in the Philippines have repeatedly grappled with an overwhelmed health care system, as the government struggles to contain the coronavirus.

The threat has become more pronounced recently, after active COVID-19 cases in the Philippines rose to over 140,000 due to the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Wednesday’s protests underscored the need to address the demands of health workers, who have warned of mass resignations. – Rappler.com