A woman receives Sinovac vaccine shot at a medical centre in Manila.
Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent
Philippine health frontliners in private hospitals have threatened to go on "medical lockdown" through mass resignations in protest against low salaries and lack of benefits amid a surge in cases blamed on the deadly and highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus pandemic.
Donnel John Siason, the head of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital Employees Association, lamented especially the lack of benefits not given them along with their counterparts from the government under a special law called Bayanihan 2 Act.
The law, approved by Congress, empowered President Duterte to take all the necessary measures when he declared a state of national emergency to blunt the impact of the pandemic on the people and on the economy.
Siason pointed out that under the law, doctors, nurses and other personnel in the private health sector are entitled to life insurance, paid residence, free transportation, free food, hazard pay and medical allowance.
Jao Clumia, the head of the St. Luke's Medical Centre Employees Association, also revealed that the hospital used to give the members free food. But he said they stopped receiving such benefit when management told them they already ran out of funds.
According to Clumia, at least 10 other hospitals complained they were running out of funds, mainly due to the failure of the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to pay them bills incurred by patients covered by the agency.
There was no estimate of the total number of private health workers who threatened to go on "medical lockdown" through mass resignation if government continued to ignore their plight but this could run into hundreds of thousands.
Metro Manila and other neighboring provinces as well as other areas outside the metropolis have been placed under the strictest lockdown called enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from Aug.6 to 20 to help contain the spread of the Delta variant.
In this light, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed to the medical frontliners not to proceed with their plan. She warned that such move would cripple the country's healthcare system already threatened by a spike in infections blamed on the Delta variant, which first wreak havoc in India.
Vergeire said they were ready to sit down with the protesting workers to discuss and resolve the issues involved. Her appeal came after the Department of Healthon Saturday, reported that it logged a new record of 14,249 confirmed cases that brought the national tally to 1.7 million. It added the death toll soared to more than 30,000 from 233 new fatalities.
Congresswomann Stella Quimpo of suburban Marikina City in Metro Manila disclosed that under Bayanihan 2 Act, a total of $36 million have not been spent, which could be used to help solve the plight of the workers.
Quimpo said Congress has no power to realign the funds but pointed out that President Duterte could exercise such power to help the workers. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello agreed with Quimpo as he said: "We have to see, find and how it will be given to them. There is no substitute in giving the workers what is due them. It is legal and it is our obligation to give these to them."
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives gave Secretary Silvestre Bello of the Department of Labour and Employment a severe verbal drubbing following revelations that he already talked with the UK ambassador to the Philippines on the issue.
After President Duterte further relaxed quarantine restrictions and allowed more businesses to reopen, leaders of nearly 100 medical organisations held an online news conference and warned that the health system may collapse as many medical personnel fall ill or resign out of fear, fatigue or poor working conditions.
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In April, the government imposed a ban on the foreign deployment especially of Filipino nurses to help control the spread of the disease. At that time, the Philippines ranked second in Southeast Asia in the number of infections.
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