A Disturbing Lack of Urgency

Better Days

Senator Sonny Angara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.

Email: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

When we crafted the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, we included there certain forms of emergency compensation for our medical frontliners – because we knew that no matter how careful they would be, some of them would get sick, or sadly fall in the fight against COVID-19.

According to Department of Health (DOH) data as of June 1, 2020, 2,669 medical frontliners have been infected, or about 15% of all cases. 1,199 of them are still sick, while thankfully some, 1,438 have recovered. And currently, among sick frontliners, one has a severe case of the COVID-19 disease. Unfortunately, there already have been 32 deaths—most of whom were physicians, while a few others were nurses and non-medical staff.

And yet, during recent interpellations in the Senate where we defended our proposed “Bayanihan to Recover As One” Act, my colleagues and I were deeply disturbed and, frankly, disappointed to find out that not a single one of our healthcare workers who had been infected and were eligible had received the emergency compensation that we included in the first Bayanihan Act (RA 11469). What’s worse—the reason for the delay given to us was that guidelines had not been finalized at the time.

The first Bayanihan Act provided the following benefits: a COVID-19 special risk allowance; a directive for the Philippine Health Insurance corporation to shoulder all medical expenses of public and private health workers related to the COVID-19 pandemic; compensation worth P100,000 to public and private health workers who contract severe COVID-19 infection while performing their duties; and finally, compensation worth P1,000,000 to the families of public and private health workers who will fall in the fight against COVID-19.

It is absolutely mindboggling how the entities in charge of making sure the support systems are up, running, and servicing our medical frontliners took so long just to issue simple guidelines, after all this time that the Bayanihan Act has been in active.

Indeed, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, my esteemed colleagues, have pointed out that the lack of guidelines should not be an excuse or hindrance to the implementation of the relevant provisions of the first Bayanihan Act. It should be easy to confirm if a health care worker was sick because of Covid-19, and to what extent. And, however cold it may sound, it should be easier to confirm if a health care worker has succumbed from COVID-19. With the Bayanihan Act ending this month, the fact that not a single peso of compensation has been given is unconscionable.

This is why my colleagues and I have signed a letter calling for the immediate release not only of the P1,000,000 benefit for the families of those who have passed away, we have also requested that the P100,000 for frontliners who have been critically infected be made available to all qualified health care workers as soon as possible.

Clearly, this is an issue born of an improperly missing sense of urgency in the DOH’s leadership. It also speaks volumes about issues that might be making implementation harder, be it from systems, protocols, or existing guidelines and policies. The welfare of our health care workers should be first and foremost, as they are the ones who are holding the line against this pandemic. We must not deny them that support because of a bureaucratic blunder. Let us not make our support for them to be mere lip service. (30)

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