Opposition Senator Leila de Lima called upon Congress to activate its special oversight commission to amend the 28-year-old Republic Act 7305, as some benefits specified therein are not all given to public health workers (PHW).
Last April 16, De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 358, urging Congress to immediately convene the Congressional Commission on Health (HEALTHCOM) to institute reforms to RA 7305, otherwise known as the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.
“[T]wenty eight years since the enactment of Magna Carta, implementation of the law has been generally weak and our PHWs still remain undervalued but overutilized,” she said.
“[T]here is an urgent need for HEALTHCOM to convene and to revisit the law and the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations to determine what provisions need to be amended in order to plug the loopholes and to bridge the statutory gaps,” she added.
HEALTHCOM, according to the law, has to meet every five years to conduct a periodic health human resource development study to upgrade and correct working conditions, reclassification of positions and salaries of public health workers and fix inequalities of salaries and benefits compared to other professions.
Citing studies from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), De Lima said that the government has failed to fully provide for the payment of benefits described in the Magna Carta, including: subsistence allowance, laundry allowance, longevity pay, hazard pay, night shift differential, free living quarters or quarters allowance, remote assignment allowance for doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives, free compulsory medical examination, higher salary grade upon retirement, salary step increment for completion of a post graduate degree and compensation for injuries.
The PIDS study observed, that in many cases, only the subsistence and laundry allowances are given to the PHWs citing that the law “failed to specify source of funds for payment of all benefits”.
On top of this oversight, De Lima said that some municipalities also fail to give overtime and night shift differential pays to their healthcare workers.
“Sadly, the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the payment of benefits prescribed in R.A. 7305 has also sown discontent to PHWs rather than empowerment,” De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said.
“[I]n the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak and in anticipation of future virus contagions, Congress must ensure that health workers, our frontliners, are given well-deserved benefits and incentives to ensure delivery of quality and effective health care services to the public,” she added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed glaring gaps in the healthcare industry in the Philippines as reports of understaffing, overutilization and lack of protection equipment for PHWs have made it harder for the country to curb the infection rate in the country.
As of April 18, the Department of Health (DOH) has reported 5,878 confirmed COVID-19 infections with 387 deaths, with at least 21 of them are healthcare workers, including doctors in specialized fields.
Calls for donations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including medical scrubs and surgical masks have continued to come in from different hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.
Also, some hospitals, including major ones, have ceased to accept suspected COVID-19 patients citing the lack of manpower to care for them. This prompted the DOH to call for much needed volunteers to alleviate the burden.
De Lima was among the first to point out that the government can conscript medical and nursing graduates to assist the frontliners. However, she stressed that they should be assured adequate protection and compensation for their efforts.
She also urged the DOH to fill the thousands of permanent, contractual and job order positions dedicated for PHWs in its own ranks as corresponding funds have been appropriated for such in the national budget./Stacy Ang