By Russell Louis C. Ku 

A GROUP of nurses denounced the proposed 2022 budget of the Department of Health (DoH), saying it is “grossly inadequate” for pandemic response as healthcare workers continue to demand the release of their delayed benefits.   

Filipino Nurses United (FNU) Secretary-General Jocelyn S. Andamo said in a phone call Friday that they are frustrated with the DoH over the lack of funding next year for healthcare workers’s benefits such as special risk allowance and meals and transportation subsidy.    

“Amidst our clamor to give our long overdue benefits, they did not allot anything on benefits for next year. In my opinion, we need to prioritize health services as well as the welfare of health workers during the pandemic,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.  

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a House budget hearing on Thursday that the DoH originally proposed a P73.99 billion fund for next year to the executive department for coronavirus response, which was later slashed to P19.67 billion.  

The original proposal included P50.41 billion for the different allowances and life insurance for medical frontliners.   

“The proposed COVID response budget for 2022 is a glaring confirmation that the DOH… has no deep regard nor respect for nurses’ and other health workers’ rights,” FNU said in a separate statement.  

Healthcare workers have started protest actions last week to demand the immediate release of their delayed hazard pay and special risk allowance.   

The Health department also said in the hearing that out of the 526,727 healthcare workers eligible to receive special risk allowance, 127,332 have yet to receive their compensation.   

However, Ms. Andamo questioined the DoH’s human resource count.    

“Usec. (Maria Rosario C. Singh-) Vergeire said that the total number of healthcare workers in the Philippines is 1.8 million. So the 500,000 (who received their benefits) does not even reach half, it’s not the majority. Meanwhile, a large chunk of health workers is in the frontlines of the pandemic, so we think it’s still lacking,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.   

Ms. Vergeire told reporters in March that there are around 1.8 million healthcare workers nationwide.   

Ms. Andamo said the FNU started consulting with lawyers on Friday for the possible filing of a case against Mr. Duque for criminal negligence in the handling of funds allotted for healthcare workers.  

Bayan Muna Chair and former congressman Neri J. Colmenares said on Thursday that the Health chief could face the risk of criminal charges over the delayed special risk allowance payments.    

“Criminally, he can be sued under Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law for causing any undue injury through gross inexcusable negligence,” he said in a statement.    

Mr. Colmenares also said that Mr. Duque should also be held liable for administrative charges for violating the Code of Conduct for Public Officials along with civil cases for damages to frontliners.