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Philippine medical staff up protests over unpaid benefits

Scores take to the streets to demand payment of Covid risk allowances, resignation of health secretary

Philippine medical staff up protests over unpaid benefits

Philippine health workers hold a protest in front of the Department of Health to demand better wages and benefits amid rising Covid-19 cases in Manila on Sept. 1, (Photo: AFP)

Medical workers in the Philippines have stepped up protests to demand they receive unpaid benefits as well as call for the resignation of the country’s health chief.

Dressed in protective gear, scores of medical workers carrying placards gathered at the Department of Health (DoH) in Manila on Sept. 1 to demand withheld social security benefits and coronavirus risk allowances.

They accused the government of mistreating them during a pandemic that has swamped hospitals with Covid-19 sufferers and claimed the lives of at least 103 medical workers.

“Healthcare workers are like emergency room patients left to suffer and die instead of being given first aid,” Manila nurse Jao Clumia told reporters during the protest.

“It’s sad that many of us have died and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DoH pleading for our benefits,” said Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers.

Medical workers say they are still waiting for the payment of benefits despite President Rodrigo Duterte ordering that health workers be paid by Aug. 31 following threats of nurse resignations and strike warnings.

Health workers, however, were not convinced that there was no corruption in the procurement process

Mendoza also criticized Duterte for defending health secretary Francisco Duque over allegations of corruption in the Health Department.

“Duterte should have supported the Commission on Audit’s report about the misused and unused 67.3-billion-peso scam in the Health Department. Instead, he defended his health chief and told the rest of his cabinet not to honor reports of the constitutionally mandated commission to oversee how government funds are spent,” Mendoza added.

Duterte recently admitted he ordered Duque to bypass a law regulating the procurement bidding process in the purchase of protective personal equipment at the start of the pandemic.

He said he did so because the pandemic necessitated a quick purchase. “This is a pandemic, so we needed to act immediately,” Duterte told reporters on Aug. 31.

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Health workers, however, were not convinced that there was no corruption in the procurement process.

“The cost of our protective gear and equipment was 1,910 pesos [US$38] compared to 600 to 1,000 pesos for gear available on the market,” Mendoza said.

Clumia and Mendoza both called for Duque to resign for failing to account for public funds that should have been spent on Covid patients and health workers.

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