By: Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Maricar Cinco -Philippine Daily Inquirer / August 31, 2021
MANILA, Philippines — As Filipinos celebrated them as modern-day heroes, medical workers protested outside their hospital duty hours on National Heroes’ Day on Monday, setting the scene for bigger rallies that may include walk-outs or mass resignations until the government releases their long overdue salaries and benefits.
Hospital unions also called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III amid a surge in COVID-19 infections because “we’ve already lost our trust in the people running the (Department of Health),” Jao Clumia, president of the workers’ union at the private St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, told the Inquirer.
Clumia said the unions did not allow their members to leave their posts so as not to disrupt hospital operations, and only those who were off their duty shift joined the rallies.
Aside from St. Luke’s, other health workers—some of them wearing hospital protective suits—also protested at different times of the day at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and at Calamba Medical Center in Laguna province.
Public health workers at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila shared the call of their colleagues in the private sector and joined protest actions also on Monday.
“We will fight for what’s rightfully ours,” said Jaymee de Guzman, a nurse at the San Lazaro Hospital and an officer of Filipino Nurses United (FNU).
FNU and another group, the Alliance of Health Workers, earlier gave the government until Sept. 1 to release their special risk allowances (SRA), subsidies for meals, accommodation and transportation as well as the active hazard duty pay that went as far back as September 2020.
But this early, Clumia said they doubted if the government could beat its own deadline set by President Duterte since it had so far released only P311 million for the SRA alone.
“The money hasn’t reached our hospital directors yet. And that amount only covers Sept. 15 to Dec. 19 (2020),” he said.
Nurse Manuel Payao, union president at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, said the pandemic had “exposed the reality that our public health system is broken and not responsive to the needs of the Filipino people and that the Duterte administration has failed to protect the ordinary workers during the crisis.”
Federation of Free Workers vice president for Mindanao Aida Brillante said too many health-care workers had died during the pandemic.
“While there is honor in dying while on duty, we need our health-care workers alive, healthy and motivated as they battle an enemy that is adapting to the environment by the day,” said Brillante, who is also union president at the San Pedro Hospital.
The coalition All Workers Unity led by Kilusang Mayo Uno also gave tribute to health-care workers facing a “seemingly endless battle” due to the government’s bungled pandemic response.
“Despite the holiday, we have nothing to celebrate. We have always been referred to as ‘modern heroes’ for our hard work and dedication despite the worsening pandemic. We are outraged at the injustice and systemic neglect inflicted upon us by the government,” said Donell Siazon, union president at the UST Hospital.
Elsewhere, Filipinos celebrated on National Heroes’ Day the country’s medical workers and front-liners for their courage and resilience in the face of a global health crisis.
President Duterte on Monday paid tribute to them and all essential workers, calling them modern-day heroes “who sacrifice their lives, comfort and security to serve our fellow Filipinos.”
“May we all learn from the valiant example of the past and present heroes and build on them to achieve a stronger future for all,” the President said in a message aired during the broadcast of the official celebration at Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea led the flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Libingan.
Among those who also recognized them was Vice President Leni Robredo, who said heroism could be found “even in the small actions as long as they are done for others.”
“Today we recognize the courage, sacrifice and greatness not only of our famous heroes but also the many Filipinos who have laid their lives for the country,” she said in a statement on Monday. “While history may not know their names, their legacy and dreams live on in us: a country that is safe, free and humane.”
But for militant groups like Bayan, the only way to truly show appreciation for health workers’ hard work is to continue calling for Duque’s resignation as he has “failed many times” to protect them from the pandemic.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the pandemic had only revealed how the administration “prioritizes corruption over the benefits of our health workers,” reacting to the Commission on Audit’s report revealing billions of pesos in unused pandemic funds and medical supply contracts awarded to questionable companies reportedly with ties to Mr. Duterte.
In a virtual dialogue also on Monday, the Philippine Nurses Association also asked the Department of the Interior and Local Government why local government units (LGUs) in the provinces had yet to enforce the salary upgrade of nurses and reinstate Nurse II positions, after they were effectively demoted by Circular 2020-4, or the entry salary upgrade from Salary Grade (SG) 11 to SG 15, issued by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they were awaiting the joint DOH and DBM guidelines for LGUs to follow in implementing the pay upgrade of nurses.