civic engagement

[FIRST PERSON] An open letter to Mayor Kit Nieto

Joie Cruz
[FIRST PERSON] An open letter to Mayor Kit Nieto
'My "politics" in this fight is to make sure that the co-workers of my mom and other healthcare workers with the similar experience get the benefits that have been promised to them by the government – on time and in the promised amount'

Dear Mayor Kit:

First and foremost, I would like to say thank you for finally addressing the issues regarding the hazard pay of my mom.

I don’t know if you remember it, but we go way back. About a decade ago, I was a journalism student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. We met up in Alabang and I interviewed you for an investigative piece that I was working on about your sudden termination at that time as the Municipal Legal Officer of Cainta.

When you ran for office and won a few years after that, I was really impressed with the progress that you brought to Cainta. I also had the impression that you are the kind of mayor who is open to feedback, both good and bad, from your constituents.

If you can remember last March, at the onset of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), I commented on one of your posts about the problem of the nurses at the Cainta Municipal Hospital. I commented on your post because my mom at that time was sharing her frustrations with me, and as a concerned daughter of a high-risk frontline worker, I wanted something to be done. After commenting on your post, my mother told me that she was summoned and angrily scolded by the hospital administrator, Dr Anthony Sierra.

My mom was crying after that incident. She also got upset with me at the time and told me: “Anak, ‘wag ka na magpo-post, kasi ako rin naman mapag-i-initan. Hindi naman ikaw ang mahihirapan. Bulok na talaga ang sistema diyan (Daughter, stop posting online since I would be targeted. You won’t be the one having a hard time. The system is really rotten).”

After that incident though, my mom told me that they were finally given supplies and some PPEs. That, for me, was a win, even if my mom got upset with me.

Why am I telling these things first? It has come to my attention that my previous affiliation with a news organization is being used to attack me personally, and our viral sentiment.

I am my own person, with my own values, principles, and political views. This is how our mother raised us.

And I take full responsibility for the sentiments that I released based on the stories told to us by our mom and based on the information provided to us by her co-workers who refuse to be named out of fear “na mapag-initan (get targeted)” or of losing their jobs.

Now, to address the points that you raised:

1. COVID-19 hazard computation

When the hazard pay of my mom was handed to me, there was no computation or any accompanying document whatsoever, that I had to sign. My mom had been looking forward so much to this benefit. And so when I saw how small the amount was, I messaged some of the co-nurses of my mom to ask how it was computed and they gave me an initial computation based on what they thought was used for my mom’s hazard pay. That was the computation I posted.

The accurate computation – which I received after I made the post – from the CMH HR was that the COVID-19 basic hazard pay is P300 and not P150. I made a decision to not revise the P150 in the post, because in the end, it appeared that our initial computation of “P64.18 per day” on top of my mom’s regular hazard pay was even lower and was “P60.93 per day.” The exact computation sent to me by CMH HR was published in the article by Rappler.

This is a mistake from my end, but this does not erase the fact that my mom and her co-workers were expecting the COVID-19 P500-hazard pay based on DOH press releases, as an added benefit for their hard work and sacrifice in the time of the pandemic, and not something that will just be added to their regular hazard pay. 

The confusion over the computation of the hazard pay is a clear manifestation of how “deceptive” and “divisive” the COVID-19 hazard pay is, as previously expressed by the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) in the Inquirer article that I shared with my post.

This also does not erase the fact that the release of my mom’s and her co-workers’ hazard pay was severely delayed, that she died even before receiving it.

In your public Facebook comments to threads with nurses regarding their hazard pay, you said that you allotted P14 million for the hazard pay of the frontline workers in the hospital. The nurses in the hospital held on to this promise, hence their expectation.

We were also told by her co-nurses that some of them did not even get any COVID-19 hazard pay, and the only explanation was that their existing hazard pay is already higher.

May we ask how your administration came up with the decision of a P300 hazard pay instead of P500? Is it because it is lower? Do Cainta nurses deserve a lower hazard pay? What is the breakdown of the P14 million budget allocation that you posted?

2. My mom’s COVID-19 exposure

We never said that my mom was in the COVID-19 ward. My mom was assigned to the pedia ward.

Her exposure, based on our knowledge and based on her previous Messenger chats dated July 11, shows that they indeed actually had a COVID-19 positive mother and her newborn baby in the pedia ward.

3. The P50,000 financial aid

Last July 23, a day after my mom died, you asked one of your staff to contact me so that you can send your condolences. We had a video call, you asked me if there’s anything you can do for us. I told you we need a priest for my mom’s online funeral service. You delivered; we had a priest, and we were grateful for this.

During the video call, you also told me about the P50,000 financial aid. I said, “Thank you.” However, it was our understanding that the P50,000 financial aid is a token for the heroic death of my mom.

Her COVID-19 hazard pay is a totally different issue. This is the added benefit that she and her co-workers should receive while they are still living and while they are battling the pandemic.

Does this mean a frontliner has to die before they could receive the right amount of money?

Must Read

Cainta nurse gets P60 daily hazard pay and dies of COVID-19 before receiving it

Cainta nurse gets P60 daily hazard pay and dies of COVID-19 before receiving it

The cheque that you issued is still untouched. We will be happy to return it to your office if this means that a frontliner should sacrifice her life before she even gets the right benefit from the government.

If you can also remember, when you asked me, “What else can I do to help?” I said: “Mayor, as the local chief executive of Cainta, I think the best you can do is make sure that this never happens again. Make sure that all our nurses in the hospital are provided with the right PPEs and will be tested.” To which you abruptly responded: “I think we already handled that. What else can we do to help?”

4. My mom’s request for a swab test

COVID-19 is a traitor. In the private messages that you posted in your statement, it was shown that my mother was requesting for a swab test, but then she was already feeling a little better. After a day, her fever returned. On July 17, Friday, she again requested for a swab test. But she was told that there was no schedule for swabbing every Friday since the testing center does not accept specimens during weekends. My mother was so anxious, and physically exhausted. We appreciate her co-nurse’s intention to have our mother tested and committed to assert that her specimen would be accepted in the center despite uncertainty. But on that day too, our mother was advised for admission. As expected, she was swabbed on Monday of the following week, July 20. 

But it begs the question: Shouldn’t exposed, high-risk medical frontliners be prioritized for RT-PCR testing regardless of schedule? The government said it has “expanded” its swab testing capacity – why is there a schedule when that crucial testing is a matter of life and death, especially for our frontliners? 

5. Call with Dr Anthony Sierra on contact tracing, testing

After my mom’s passing, I was coordinating with Dr Sierra for the swab testing of our family members who were in contact with my mom.

When my mom was admitted to the hospital, a colleague of hers who is an Institutional Worker (IW, a hospital worker who has a salary of about P4,000 a month) assisted us in looking after our mother in her hospital room.

In my phone conversation with Dr Sierra, he told me that I should be the one tested because I was the one in the hospital when my mom died. I told him I don’t live in Cainta and will just do a strict home quarantine or opt for a private test, but I would like to request the IW colleague of my mom to be tested instead, as well as other family members in Cainta who were in contact with her.

During the call, Dr Sierra repeatedly said: “This is the protocol. But puwede naman natin baliin ang protocol (But we can break protocol).” To which I responded, “Dok, ano’ng baliin ang protocol? Ayaw namin masabihan na VIP treatment. Doon po kami sa tama. Ano ba ang tama (Doc, what do you mean, break protocol? We don’t want to be accused of VIP treatment. We want to do what’s right. What’s the right thing to do)?”

I insisted on having the IW colleague of my mom tested. At one point in the conversation, Dr Sierra said something to the effect of: “Sayang kasi sa oras. Kasi baka kapag ti-nest natin eh, magpositive ang buong pamilya (It’s a waste of time. Because if we test [the person], the whole family might turn out to be positive).”

I was taken aback and then I said, “Dok, I guess depende ‘yan sa moral ascendancy mo. Ano ba ang tama (Doc, I guess that depends on your moral ascendancy. What’s the right thing to do)?” He paused.

After a few more negotiations, he finally agreed to have the IW colleague of my mom tested, as well as a high-risk pregnant family member.

During this call, Dr Anthony Sierra even asked me about a certain COVID-19 positive person who was the relative of our 7-year-old sister’s nanny, implying that my mom could have been exposed to the nanny and not because of her work at the hospital. 

Her nanny was not in contact with the relative. But clearly, when Dr Anthony Sierra mentioned this, he was looking to throw the blame of my mom’s exposure to someone else. But on July 18, my sister and her nanny availed of the free rapid test from the hospital and both were negative. 

My mom got exposed to the virus on the job. Isn’t it enough that my mom died fulfilling her duty, for Dr Anthony Sierra to insinuate this and strip off her dignity as a frontliner? 

7. The bigger picture

When I shared my sentiment online, I had no idea that it would go viral and that it would inspire other frontline workers to voice out their grievances. Because apparently, the same “deception” and “delay” when it comes to the COVID-19 hazard pay is also happening in many public hospitals around the country.

If you read the in-depth article by Rappler, it was stated that what is really problematic is President Duterte’s Administrative Order No. 26 and how different the guidelines are compared to the press releases about the P500-hazard pay.

Clearly, my mom is one the many frontline workers who have no idea about AO 26 and who just relied on the news and announcements from DOH. Do we expect our nurses to read these legal issuances while they are busy risking their lives on the front line? Shouldn’t this have been explained better to them by the hospital administrator so as not to get their hopes up?

Why is the public press release of the government different from the actual implementation? How can the local government units make adjustments to their hazard pay without informing their constituents? Don’t they deserve a higher hazard pay?

8. Leadership

You said in your post that you admit that you prioritized your citizens “outside” first during the pandemic.

With all due respect, your team and your employees are also your citizens. Without them, you will not be able to properly deliver public services. It is your responsibility to take care of them as well. Without them, you don’t have a local government.

I think it’s also time to accept that there are things that need to be fixed and improved with how things are currently run at the Cainta Municipal Hospital. These layers of narrative and issues that we have is a clear indication of a systemic problem at CMH.

9. Data privacy

I am also appalled seeing that you posted our mother’s and her co-nurses’ payroll in your statement. I believe this contains sensitive personal information of your employees – of your constituents. As the local chief executive, you have the responsibility to secure these information and are not entitled to release such information in public without the consent of the parties involved. To cite the preliminary provisions of  R.A. 10173, personal information includes but are not limited to the following:

 “About an individual’s health, education, genetic or sexual life of a person, or to any proceeding for any offense committed or alleged to have been committed by such individual, the disposal of such proceedings, or the sentence of any court in such proceedings;

“Issued by government agencies peculiar to an individual which includes, but not limited to, social security numbers, previous or cm-rent health records, licenses or its denials, suspension or revocation, and tax returns….”

Secondly, I believe you should have asked for our consent before you posted those private messages. It has also come to our attention that you have screenshots of personal family matters – previous misunderstandings and silly quarrels with my mom – which we all know is something that families normally go through. Should you decide to release these screenshots, would it be something that reflects your moral ground? 

Some people have been commenting on my posts and accusing me of “using the death of my mom for politics.” This is correct. Everything is political. And my “politics” in this fight is to make sure that the co-workers of my mom and other healthcare workers with the similar experience get the benefits that have been promised to them by the government – on time and in the promised amount.

If this means that I have to take a few bashing and ad hominem from accounts that we are not even sure are real, then so be it.

As I have said, this fight is bigger than my mom. This fight is for all our healthcare workers who are experiencing the same challenges in their own assignments.

This fight is to make sure that our frontline workers are given what they deserve and what they are promised. –