House panel approves bills on continued benefits for healthcare workers

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE HOUSE Committee on Health has approved several bills that would continue the allowances and benefits for healthcare workers as the spread of the coronavirus persists.

In a hearing Tuesday, the panel approved House Bills 9640, 10198, 10285, 10331, and 10365 subject to their consolidation and style amendments.

All measures seek to cover both public and private health facility workers along with non-medical personnel as well as other frontliners such as barangay health workers.

They will be granted both special risk allowance and hazard duty pay during a state of public health emergency from July 1, 2021. These benefits will be exempted from taxes.

Funding for the proposed acts will come from the budget of the Department of Health (DoH) for the current year as a separate line item.

During the hearing, DoH officials affirmed their proposal for a singular COVID-19 allowance rate system based on three risk categories.

The proposed monthly allocations consist of P3,000 for low-risk workers, P6,000 for medium-risk, and P9,000 for those at high-risk.

“First, it is easier to implement since all benefits are lumped into one. Second, it allows for all healthcare workers to receive their benefits relative to the COVID-19 risk in the workplace. Third, it harmonizes the rate of benefits to be received by both public and private healthcare workers,” Health Undersecretary Leopoldo J. Vega said.

However, Filipino Nurses United President Maristela P. Abenojar and Alliance of Health Workers President Robert Mendoza said they would support the version filed by the Makabayan bloc that proposed P15,000 per month for special risk allowance and P5,000 for active hazard pay.

“This would mean that it would amount to P681 per day for special risk (allowance) and P227 a day for active hazard pay. This should be support and it should not be made pro-rated, but fixed,” Ms. Abenojar said in Filipino.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, one of the authors of House Bill 9640, said during his sponsorship speech that the allowances that healthcare workers received under the Bayanihan laws were “insufficient and limited” for their needs.

A counterpart bill, Senate Bill 2421, is currently pending second reading at the upper chamber. — Russell Louis C. Ku