Duterte tells DOH: Prioritize benefits of health workers 'if money enough'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Health to prioritize paying the benefits and allowances of medical frontliners — if there is enough budget to fund it.

"Itong frontliners unahin mo na lang. If there is enough money, bayaran mo," he said in a televised meeting attended by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega on Monday.

[Translation: Prioritize the frontliners. If there is enough money, pay for it.]

Several groups of healthcare workers have threatened to go on mass resignation and work stoppage over unpaid COVID-19 pandemic-related benefits.

RELATED: Health workers to stage mass protest on DOH neglect of their plight

The DOH said it released the ₱9 billion Special Risk Allowance fund last June to its regional offices and hospitals, but health workers insisted not one of them received a single centavo from the grant.

Health Undersecretary Vega on Monday explained that 306,314 health workers received their special risk allowance under Bayanihan 2 Law from Sept. 15 to Dec. 19, 2020, while around 359,501 got theirs from Dec. 20, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

He added 384,159 health workers obtained their hazard pay under Bayanihan 2 and 23,081 of them secured sickness and death benefits. About ₱1.3 billion worth of meals, accommodation, and transportation allowances have also been disbursed to health workers.

But hospital officials denied receiving the mandated allowance.

“You tell the media that health workers in the private sector have been given benefits. What are the benefits? We haven’t even received those included in the DOH Administrative Order 2020-0054,” lamented Jao Clumia, president of the St. Luke's Medical Center Quezon City Employees Association.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is scheduled on Wednesday to investigate the reported non-issuance of benefits to healthcare workers.

"In this case, meron kang testigo na sinasabi hindi kami nakakuha. So, the focus of the investigation will be on that... Delay or non-delivery or where did the money go and who's responsible for the delay," Senator Richard Gordon said on Monday.

[Translation: There is a witness saying they did not receive anything, so the investigation will focus on that. We will look into the delay or non-delivery of the money, where it went, and who is responsible for the delay.]