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MANILA, Philippines- The proposed lifting of Public Health Emergency as recommended by the Department of Health (DOH) stirred reactions to health unions on Thursday as this might excuse the government to discontinue the Health Emergency Allowance (HEA) for health workers.

The United Private Unions of the Philippines (UPHUP) and Alliance of Filipino Workers (AFW) feared that the lifting of the state of the public health emergency would affect the promised funding and allowances for health workers.

“Kulang-kulang at marami pang hindi pa nabibigyan ng ipinangako nila na HEA, tapos ngayon ititigil na nila. Kasabay ng pag-lift ng Philippine Health Emergency ay dapat may categorical statement from the DOH and the government na ayusin nila ang pagbibigay ng HEA,” said Ronald Richie Ignacio, spokesperson of UPHUP on Thursday.

[Translation: There are so many health workers who have not been given the promised HEA, then now they want to stop it. Along with the lifting of the Philippine Health Emergency, there must be a categorical statement from the DOH and the government that they will arrange the provision of HEA.]

Health Emergency Allowance (HEA) was approved on April 27, 2022 in the Republic Act No. 11712, or the Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances for Health Care Workers Act (“RA 11712”) by Former President Rodrigo Duterte prompted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ignacio emphasized that almost all regions of the country especially in the private hospitals have not yet received their respective HEA.

“Marami pang hindi nakatanggap, almost all regions of the country lalo na sa private hospitals. Ang pag-lift nila ng health emergency ay pagtakas sa responsibilid nilang mabayaran ang lahat ng mga itinuring nilang bayani ng pandemya,” Ignacio added.

[Translation: There are many who have not received, almost all regions of the country especially in private hospitals. Their lifting of the health emergency is an escape from their responsibility to pay all those they considered heroes of the pandemic.]

Rene Capito, President of the Alliance of Filipino Workers (AFW) and lead convener of UPHUP also said that the government to cannot guarantee the continuity of HEA even after the public health emergency was lifted.

“Kung i-lift man ang public health emergency, dapat siguraduhin ng gobyerno na tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang HEA. Napatunayan na natin na kaya itong pondohan ng gobyerno ng tatlong magkakasunod na taon. Kailangan din siguruhin ang maayos na implementasyon nito.” Capito said in a statement.

[Translation: If the public health emergency is lifted, the government must ensure that the HEA continues. We have already proven that the government can fund it three years in a row. It is also necessary to ensure its proper implementation.]

For his part, Jesus Obien, President of the Unified Filipino Service Workers (UFSW) and also a member of UPHUP, said that the government lacks concern for health workers, “Simula nitong pandemic, hindi namin nakakitaan ng malasakit ang gobyerno sa aming health workers.”

“Kung hindi pa kami magra rally sa DOH, hindi nila kami papansinin. Ayaw nila kami bigyan ng datos kung ano na ba talaga ang nangyayari sa benepisyo namin sa HEA,” Obien added.

[Translation: Since this pandemic, we have not seen the government care about our health workers. If we don’t rally at the DOH, they will ignore us. They don’t want to give us data on what is really happening to our HEA benefits.]

Based on survey-records of each hospital members of UPHUP, they have not yet received the coverage of 12 to 15 months benefits in HEA. The union feared that when the pandemic stop, they might not also get the missing HEA.

“Sa public health workers po ay mayroong hazard pay dahil meron silang Magna Carta for Public Health Workers. Kami sa pribadong sektor walang hazard pay. Umaasa lang kami sa HEA tapos ngayon babawiin na. Nakita naman natin na kaya ng gobyerno bigyan ng hazard pay ang lahat ng health workers. Kaya itinutulak namin sa UPHUP na magkaroon ng Magna Carta for All Health Workers.” Sherwin Moscosa, President of St. Luke’s Medical Center – Global City Union and lead convener of UPHUP stated.

[Translation: For public health workers, there is hazard pay because they have the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers. We in the private sector do not have hazard pay. We only rely on the HEA and now it will be withdrawn. We have seen that the government can give hazard pay to all health workers. That’s why we are pushing UPHUP to have a Magna Carta for All Health Workers.]

As part of the eagerness to be heard Donell Siazon, President of UST Hospital Union, said “Kung talagang hindi nila kami pakikinggan at patuloy na babalewalain, magkita-kita na lang ulit kami sa kalye.

[Translation: If they really won’t listen to us and continue to ignore us, we’ll just meet again on the street (rallying).]