Senate Health Committee provides platform for healthcare workers to voice concerns as Chair Bong Go reminds DBM, DOH to prioritize HEA

Senate Health Committee provides platform for healthcare workers to voice concerns as Chair Bong Go reminds DBM, DOH to prioritize HEA

SENATE Committee on Health and Demography Chair Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Monday, May 20, championed the welfare of healthcare workers as the public hearing he led became an “avenue” for ordinary healthcare workers to ask high-ranking officials directly about their delayed health emergency allowances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a public hearing conducted by the Committee, healthcare workers were given an opportunity to have a dialogue with Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Teodoro Herbosa and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman regarding their Health Emergency Allowance or HEA concerns.

Senator Go was one of the authors and co-sponsors of Republic Act No. 11712, or the Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances Act, which grants benefits and allowances to healthcare workers during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the lifting of the state of public health emergency last year, a number of health workers have not yet received what is due to them.

Healthcare worker Rowel Pahati expressed deep gratitude to Go for providing a platform to air their concerns. Pahati, however, could not hold back his emotion as he raised his questions directed to DOH and DBM through the committee chair.

“Tuwang-tuwa po kami. Kasi pangatlong beses na kami uma-attend dito at palagi kaming ini-involve ni Senator Bong. Salamat po. Pangalawang beses ko nang narinig na unang tinanong ni Senator Bong na napakaganda sa pandinig naming mga healthcare worker kung priority n’yo kami. Hindi kayo masagot, senator eh. Hindi kayo masagot nila. Nung may mga sakit po ang mga Pilipino, priority namin kayong lahat. Naiiyak kami kasi para kaming namamalimos,” Pahati said.

Pahati, who is part of the United Private Hospital Unions of the Philippines, raised concerns about a fellow healthcare worker who he said is losing hope of ever receiving HEA.

“Meron po kami ngayon, senator, na kasamahan na mukhang hindi na masisilayan ‘yung HEA dahil may cancer po siya. Pasensya na kayo kung nagiging emosyonal. Kasi tuwang tuwa kami na ilang hospital na pribado na iniimbita dito ni Senator. Salamat, Senator. Pero kada punta po namin, hindi po masagot ‘yung tanong namin kung kailan,” he added.

Expressing his solidarity with healthcare workers, Go acknowledged their hardships and sacrifices, saying, “I am one with you po. Alam ko ‘yung hirap. Ang mga BHW, ang init po, nagbibilad sa init ‘yan para sa kanilang trabaho, makapag-serbisyo sa mga ating mga kababayan.”

“You have this committee, you have the avenue, nandito po ito. Kung kakailanganin nga, mag-weekly tayo, monthly hearing tayo hanggang matapos po ang obligasyon ng gobyerno,” he added.

Turning to DOH and DBM officials, Go asked for assurances that the concerned agencies will fulfill their previous commitment of releasing HEA in full by next year.

“Priority po namin kayo. Priority po namin. ‘Yan po ang utos. Ika nga ni Senator, nasa SONA po ng ating Presidente (Marcos). Tuwing nagkikita po kami, sinasabi po niya, pinapaalala po niya ‘yan, priority po namin kayo,” Budget Sec. Pangandaman replied.

“But ang promise ko po, sinabi ko na rin po kanina, by 2025, tapos na, babayaran na po natin. Pero ‘yung implementation po, sa DOH, ‘yung listahan, sa DOH po,” she added.

Go also sought reassurances from DOH Secretary Herbosa, who acknowledged the bureaucratic issues and budget constraints but committed to improving the distribution system and reconciling their records with DBM as to the pending amount needed to fulfill all obligations.

During the hearing, healthcare worker representatives inquired about the discrepancy in funding prioritization in the national budget, pointing out that while PhP27.3 billion was still required on top of what was programmed under this year’s DOH budget, only PhP2.3 billion had been indicated under the unprogrammed appropriations for the Health Emergency Allowance.

In response, Pangandaman elaborated on budget constraints and the prioritization process, emphasizing the government’s efforts to balance numerous essential programs within a limited fiscal space.

“Depende po sa amount ng excess revenues na makukuha natin from Bureau of Treasury, and then, titignan po natin… dahil marami pong… I know this is important, pero marami ding equally important programs po na kailangan din po natin,” she replied referring to the process of funding unprogrammed appropriations.

The complexity of disbursing the HEA was further discussed by DOH Secretary Teodoro Herbosa, who detailed the logistical hurdles faced by the DOH in ensuring the funds reach the intended recipients.

Herbosa further explained the internal procedures that delay the flow of funds, noting that once the funds are available for disbursement, they release funds to private hospitals, as done in Metro Manila. However, delays arise when liquidation reports from these hospitals to ensure accountability and proper disbursement are not submitted on time.

Amidst the technical explanations, healthcare representatives expressed their need for more transparency and efficiency in the disbursement process. They stressed the urgency of resolving these delays, which would significantly impact their livelihoods and morale.

Go echoed these sentiments and emphasized the dire situation faced by healthcare workers, saying, “Marami pong umaasa dito sa munting benepisyo na makukuha nila… allowances na pinaghirapan at pinagpapawisan po nila…services rendered na po iyan,” he added.

As the meeting progressed, the DBM and DOH also stressed efforts for “HEA mapping”, an initiative to provide transparency by showing exactly who has received their allowances and who has not. Go then acknowledged the ongoing efforts and pushed for clarity on how these processes could be optimized to ensure no qualified healthcare worker is left out due to bureaucratic delays.

Senator Go concluded the deliberations by reiterating the plight of healthcare workers: “Sabi ko, this Committee has been an avenue for healthcare workers in the previous hearings, and it will continue to be a platform for them to voice out their concerns. To our healthcare workers, I am one with you in your call for the release of your much deserved allowances.”


Follow SMNI NEWS on Twitter