Senators push for ‘liberal’ interpretation of rules on allowance of health workers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — Senators on Wednesday urged the Health Department to adopt a “liberal” approach when it comes to granting health workers their special risk allowance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hindi ba dapat kapag COVID pandemic talagang 'di mo na pwedeng tukuyin kung ito may COVID ba ito, ito wala, mag-eenie meenie miney moe? The general statement should be, ‘pag nasa ospital ka, you’re in a dangerous area,” said Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Richard Gordon.

[Translation: Isn't it that during the COVID pandemic, you won’t be able to determine anymore who has COVID and who doesn’t, as if you’re playing eenie meenie miney moe? The general statement should be, when you’re in a hospital, you’re in a dangerous area.]

Gordon made the remark after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said hospital chiefs should validate first if the medical frontliners set to receive the benefits directly cared for COVID-19 patients.

However, Filipino Nurses United secretary general Jocelyn Andamo denied this policy is even being observed. She said nurses have complained about not receiving any benefits at all despite handling COVID-positive patients.

“The rule should be interpreted, as Senator Drilon and I are of the same opinion, liberally construed in favor of the worker. Because even labor laws say if there’s a doubt, the interpretation should be in favor of the worker,” said Gordon.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon agreed with Gordon, emphasizing that the said allowance is a social benefit.

Duque eventually said they will be looking into the agency’s savings to free up some funds for the health workers’ SRA, but they need to see first which can be realigned before they can give a clear answer.

Many health workers have complained about not receiving promised benefits such as the SRA, allowances for meals and transportation, and active hazard duty pay, among others.

The DOH earlier admitted “miscalculations” in the disbursement of the health workers’ benefits and vowed to seek additional funding for their SRA. 

In his weekly address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the agency to prioritize payment of the frontliners’ benefits and allowances.