Press Release
January 31, 2022

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto
31 January 2022

Exactly two years ago today, the swab test on the country's COVID-19 Patient 2, a Chinese national, returned positive.

A day later, on February 1, 2020, he expired. Patient 2 was confirmed as the first COVID-19 death outside of China.

Yesterday, we recorded our Patient No. 3,528,796. And based also on yesterday's death tally, Patient 2 was followed by 53,870 more.

Because the pandemic billboard displays only the running bottomlines, it does not carry the number of health personnel who got sick or died while on the frontlines.

The white coats in the trenches are casualties, too. Many got infected once, some repeatedly, but after recovering, promptly reported back to duty. They know the drill.

Others were not as lucky. They gave what is said to be their final measure of devotion to duty.

Over the past two years, the virus has mutated in a dizzying clip, but vaccines were also developed in record speed.

The virus-vaccine race has yet to reach the finish line but there is no doubt that science will win in the end.

Ang nakakapagtaka lang, at nakakalungkot, ay tila ba mas mabilis pa ang pagdiskubre ng mga bagong bakuna kaysa sa pagtakda ng mga allowances sa ating mga health workers.

Additional pay categories for frontliners should be easier to formulate - and fund - than vaccines.

May booster na nga ang bakuna, pero wala pang booster ang sahod ng mga manggagawa sa kalusugan.

This matter ought to be right up the alley of the Executive, as they propose what Congress should dispose. The policy initiative is theirs to take. Or to use a medical term, they write the prescription for Congress to dispense.

Pero ano ang nangyari? In the back-to-back Bayanihan legislation, in the crafting of two GAAs, the Senate displayed deft policy entrepreneurship.

We pushed the envelope, and resisted their push back.

Ang resulta: Maraming magagandang panukala ang naisama sa mga batas na ito--because in the finest Senate tradition, our first instinct was not to ratify executive proposals but to improve them.

And another good thing is that at a time when discourse is riven with partisanship, all of these were products of bipartisanship.

In this chamber, I am proud to say that the minority-majority divide is soluble by the common good.

Mr. President:

This bill adopts the "sana all, sana on time, sana sapat" guideline in formulating the rates of risk allowances and compensation of health workers who contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.

"Sana all" because it applies to all public and private health workers, regardless of employment status, as defined under this Act during the State of Public Health Emergency declared by the President.

The virus does not discriminate on the basis of employment tenure.

"Sana all" because the COVID-19 risk allowance and compensation for sickness shall also apply to non-medical workers and outsourced personnel hired under institutional or individual contract of service or job order basis.

Sanitation workers, housekeepers, janitors, critical equipment operators, to name a few, are frontliners, too. Without them, a hospital will collapse.

They are unheralded, but they're important cogs in a hospital ecosystem.

If they stand shoulder to shoulder with health professionals, why should there be a pay apartheid, when workers exposed to the same risk are divided between the have-allowances and the have-nots?

Tinanggal na rin dito ang batayan ng pagbibigay ng allowance na sobrang kitid at saksakan ng kuripot.

Ang mahalaga ay 96 hours lang na actual duty, 100 percent na ang entitlement. As this can easily be met, this makes the work on payroll makers easier, as it does not require meticulous prorating.

There is also a backpay provision in this bill, authorizing the government to settle outstanding claims for qualified COVID-19 duty rendered in 2021.

Speaking of funding, this is not a case of putting the cart before the horse.

There is already P51 billion in the GAA for 2022 to finance the allowances authorized under that law and under this bill.

P9 billion of this amount is booked as programmed appropriations, which means it is good to go.

The rest, P42 billion, is under the Unprogrammed Fund, which can only be triggered to be released by excess revenues or new loans--the latter a certainty, given our P2.47 trillion gross borrowing program this year.

The most important question, however, is if the rates prescribed in this bill are commensurate to the work done and the dangers and risks associated.

Sapat na po ba ang sumusunod na Special Risk Allowance?

P3,000 kada buwan sa low risk areas;

P6,000 kada buwan sa medium risk areas; at

P9,000 kada buwan sa high risk areas.

Sapat na po ba ang compensation na mga ito para sa mga nagkasakit habang naka COVID-19 duty ?

P15,000 para sa mild or moderate case;

P100,000 para sa severe or critical case; at

P1 million sa nasawi.

My answer is no. Hindi po talaga sapat. It will be hard to pin a monetary value to their sacrifice. Cliché it may sound, no amount will be enough.

But within the finite resource that our taxpayers can raise, as it is they who will eventually foot the bill, this is the best which can be cobbled together, given the other important needs of our people which must also be met.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

Notwithstanding that reservation, I vote yes to this measure.

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