Senators said on Wednesday, August 18, that all health workers, whether they are directly treating COVID-19 patients or not, should also receive special risk allowance since they are all exposed to the risk of contracting the virus.
At a Senate hearing on the mismanagement of P67 billion worth of COVID-19 funds, Senate blue ribbon committee chairperson Senator Richard Gordon said that the government “cannot play God” in granting these benefits to health workers because the country is in a pandemic.
“Hindi ba toxic ‘yung situation sa ospital? Why are we playing God? Na pagka nandun ‘yung tao, doktor natin, nurse natin, kahit na wala siya sa COVID ward, mae-expose siya. mae-expose pati pamilya niya,” Gordon said.
(Isn’t the situation in hospitals toxic? Why are we playing God? If the patients are there, the doctors, the nurses, even though they are not in the COVID-19 ward, they are exposed, and their families as well.)
The senator made the statement after Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said hospital chiefs should validate first if the medical frontliners set to receive the benefits directly treated COVID-19 patients.
While coronavirus is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets, hospitals are the most high-risk area to catch the virus since patients are treated there.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Risa Hontiveros agreed with Gordon. Drilon said that “there should be a liberal interpretation” of the benefits since this is a “social benefit” for health workers.
For Hontiveros, the policy in granting the benefits should not be “restrictive” as all health workers are exposed to the virus.
“Our health experts led by the DOH have taught us that closed, air-conditioned areas have high viral load environment – these are areas where we are most vulnerable, and those descriptions fit hospitals more than any other setting,” she said.
Open to discussion
In the same hearing, Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo said that the agency is open to discussing the matter with the DOH since it was the latter who prepared the implementing rules.
“So it’s, I guess, within the power of the DOH, to a certain extent, to provide who should be considered covered,” Aguinaldo said.
“If there are areas of interpretation, like when you say, you use the words ‘at risk,’ then they do have some leeway on who can be covered by defining what is meant by ‘at risk,'” he added.
Based on a joint circular from the DOH and the Department of Budget and Management, eligible health workers may receive special risk allowance not exceeding P5,000 per month. It would cover the number of days the health workers physically reported to work in a month from September 15, 2020, until June 30, 2021. However, there are still a number of health workers who haven’t received this benefit yet.