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Priest accuses Philippine govt of betraying health workers

More than 126,000 medical staff have yet to receive Covid risk allowances promised nearly two years ago

Health workers stage a protest to ask the government for hazard pay and benefits outside the Department of Health office in Manila on Sept. 1, 2021

Health workers stage a protest to ask the government for hazard pay and benefits outside the Department of Health office in Manila on Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo:AFP)

Published: June 23, 2022 08:21 AM GMT

Updated: June 23, 2022 09:15 AM GMT

A Catholic priest well known for speaking out on human rights issues in the Philippines has accused the government of betraying more than 126,000 medical workers by not paying them promised pandemic and health benefits.

Father Robert Reyes of Cubao Diocese in Manila said there was no reason why authorities should delay the release of a 7.9 billion peso (US$158 million) Covid fund to help health workers in the private sector.

The government had promised to pay them in October 2020 amid the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cash allowances were supposed to be distributed to medical frontliners like doctors and nurses working in private hospitals as risk benefits in case they contracted the virus and were forced into quarantine without pay.

More than 126,000 health workers claim they have still not received any payment from this fund.

“I hope the money is still there and has not been used by corrupt politicians for campaigns in the last election,” Father Reyes told UCA News.

“Our doctors and nurses readily served the sick with professionalism, not thinking of their own health and safety. Some of them died because they had contracted the virus before the vaccines were introduced"

He said it was “highly unjust” and a betrayal to delay the release of the allowance, especially after doctors and nurses risked their lives to take care of Covid patients.

“Our doctors and nurses readily served the sick with professionalism, not thinking of their own health and safety. Some of them died because they had contracted the virus before the vaccines were introduced. Yet why are we delaying the benefits that they deserve?” Father Reyes said.

He was responding to a June 22 statement by the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines which criticized the non-payment of the allowances which had been approved by parliament.

Medical staff working in high-risk areas were each entitled to $180 per month in extra benefits, while those in moderate and low-risk places were supposed to get $120 and $160 respectively.

Father Reyes said many health workers have been left “demoralized” by what they see as a lack of protection from the government.

“I have spoken to several doctors and nurses. They are already thinking of going abroad to work because it doesn’t make sense to work here if the government does not give them what is due,” Father Reyes said.

Disgruntlement among Philippine health workers has grown sharply in recent years over poor salaries, benefits and what they say is a lack of government support.

A nurse in the Philippines has an entry salary of $440 per month while a policeman receives a monthly salary of $600.

In 2019, before the pandemic, about 17,000 nurses in the Philippines went to work abroad.

In 2021, over 23,000 nurses, representing 85 percent of all nurses in the country, left for greener pastures, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

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