'Palusot ang IRR': Sotto urges DOH to fast-track compensation of health workers

The Department of Health should have given compensation to health workers infected with the coronavirus ahead of the approval of the measure's implementing rules and regulations (IRR), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday, June 3.

Sotto said that instead of doing this, the DOH used the delayed approval of the IRR as an excuse for its failure to fast-track the release of compensation to health workers who contracted COVID-19, and to families of health workers who died of the disease.

"Dapat 'yung mga nasaktan, nagkasakit, at 'yung mga namatay na health workers, dapat kinompensate. Dapat noon pa lang. Magda-dalawang buwan na eh. Dapat inuna nila 'yun. 'Wag 'nyo kaming gagamitan ng palusot sa IRR," Sotto told reporters in a media interview.

(Health workers who were infected and died should be compensated. They should've been compensated then. It's been two months. They should've prioritized that. Don't use the IRR as an excuse.)

During the deliberations on Senate Bill No. 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One, Senator Sonny Angara said that health workers with COVID-19 have yet to receive the financial compensation laid out under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Angara said on Tuesday, June 2, that he was told that it was due to the delayed approval of the IRR. Under the Bayanihan law, health workers severely infected with coronavirus should receive P100,000, while P1 million should be given to the families of those who died.

In a strongly-worded letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Sotto said on Wednesday that the implementation of a law is not solely dependent on an IRR, unless specifically required.

"A law's effectivity does not and cannot rely on the IRR's existence or non-existence, especially if the provisions of the law is clear and categorical," the Senate President said.

For the sake of argument, Sotto indulged the need for an IRR in his letter. He then questioned why the department took too long to craft the guidelines.

"Their being so-called COVID-19 heroes and the accolades they received each day are enough for them to get noticed by everyone, including you. But it seems that you pay no heed to these facts," Sotto said.

"While I understand that this pandemic is an unprecendented crisis, let it not be a reason for your failure to do what is expected of you as a secretary of health and the chairperson of the IATF," the Senate President added.

Angara, along with Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Joel Villaneuva, also wrote to Duque on Wednesday, urging the immediate release of the compensation package.

According to the senators, the target release of the IRR is from Thursday, June 4, to Friday, June 5.

"It is utterly disappointing that the compensation due still has not been claimed by our brave health care workers or their families more than two months since its enactment," the senators said.

The Bayanihan Act is effective until June 5, or before Congress adjourns sine die, because of the constitutional requirement on emergency powers.

SB 1564 or the "bayanihan 2 bill" – which is awaiting certification from Malacañang – adopted the compensation provision from the first Bayanihan law. If passed, the package to health workers and the families of those who died will be available once the proposed bayanihan 2 bill takes effect. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.