Bayanihan 2: Strengthening our health response against COVID-19 

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.

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As this goes online, the tally of COVID-19 cases in the country has more than breached the 200,000 mark already—mere weeks after surpassing the 100,000 mark earlier this month. More than 130,000 have recovered, yes, but there are still more than 61,000 active cases.  One should not also discount that more than 3,000 Filipinos have already died due to the virus. We clearly have much more to do to fight this pandemic. This is why it’s important that the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act—or Bayanihan 2, which we sponsored and defended—is now awaiting the President’s signature.

The measure has up to P140 billion in regular appropriations—P40.5 billion of this will be allocated for programs and expenses that will be used in the medical frontlines that define our war against COVID-19.

For instance, there is a need to procure 6 million N95 face masks, 8.5 million gowns, 1 million head covers, and 2 million coveralls—three months’ worth of supplies for our health care workers and indigent persons in danger. Under Bayanihan 2, P3 billion will be made available to the Department of Health for this. Equipment such as PPEs made in the Philippines will be preferred, subject to price and quality standards, and with the help of incentives and fiscal policies.

To help our healthcare workers (HCWs), the frontline soldiers in this war, Bayanihan 2 appropriates P13.5 billion for the Department of Health’s (DOH) continuous employment and hiring of emergency human resources for health (HRH). Such appropriation shall cover the hiring of an additional 4,228 HRH personnel and the extension of service of 5,143 others. It also includes fund augmentation for operation of DOH hospitals; the special risk allowance for at least 89,551 public HCWs; and the hazard duty pay for 66,249 private HCWs. Due to concerns of how some HCWs are treated, accommodation, transportation, and meals for them will also be provided under Bayanihan 2. Mandatory testing of public and private HCWs will also be done every 15 days.

The measure also retains the compensation provided in Bayanihan 1 for HCWs who have been infected by, or have died because of, COVID-19. The addition is that under Bayanihan 2, compensation will also be given to HCWs who are considered “mild” COVID-19 cases. With the appropriations under Bayanihan 2, compensation will be given to some 5,171 HCWs who have been infected, and 44 who have died, as well as an estimated 9,000 who could be infected by COVID-19 from August to December.

Bayanihan 2 also responds to the need for more quarantine facilities. P4.5 billion will be used by the DOH for building temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, field hospitals, and the expansion of hospital capacities across the country. Dormitories for frontliners will also be included as well as support and funding for the upgrading of existing biosafety laboratories, and capital outlay support for COVID-19 related medical and laboratory equipment. Another P4.5 billion will be used by the Department of National Defense’s Office of Civil Defense for building and maintaining isolation facilities. This will include hotel billings, food, and transportation used for our COVID-19 response. The estimate is that we have up to 128,000 COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, as well as suspected cases. This recognition of the need for more facilities also makes it a goal to increase the bed capacity for COVID-19 cases—20% for private hospitals, and 30% for government hospitals.

Meanwhile, Philhealth is directed to reimburse all due funds to district, provincial, and city hospitals. Government financial institutions are also implored to prioritize in their lending and credit line services hospitals and healthcare institutions that are having cashflow or liquidity issues due to the pandemic.

P5 billion will be allocated for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to hire at least 50,000 contact tracers, and for the creation of a national online electronic application system for contact tracing.

Finally, there will be a P10-billion standby fund with the Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 testing and the procurement of medicines and possible vaccines. We expect up to 4 million beneficiaries for testing.

Now, we need to act swiftly and decisively, if we want to recover faster from this pandemic. With proper implementation of the Bayanihan 2 Act, our country should be able to get back on its feet, sooner rather than later.

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