By Adrian Portugal
MANILA (Reuters) – Scores of healthcare workers protested in the Philippine capital on Wednesday to demand an end to what they called government neglect and unpaid benefits, as pressure builds at hospitals fighting one of Asia’s longest-running coronavirus epidemics.
Protesters wearing protective medical gear gathered at the Department of Health (DOH) and held placards demanding their risk allowances and hazard pay, and the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
The Philippines passed the 2 million mark in coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a fifth of those recorded in the past month alone. Medical staff are overwhelmed and 103 have died during the pandemic, among some 33,500 coronavirus fatalities overall.
“It is sad that many of us have died, many of us became sick, and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DOH to give us our benefits,” Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said from the back of a pickup truck.
President Rodrigo Duterte gave health and budget ministries 10 days from Aug. 21 to pay health workers https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-duterte-orders-payment-healthcare-workers-benefits-2021-08-21, following nurses’ threats to resign and unions warning of strikes.
“The government promised it will give the benefits today but up to now, it has not. I pity us because we are the ones begging,” said nurse Nico Oba.
Duterte has stood by health minister Duque during repeated calls for his resignation, the latest after state auditors flagged “deficiencies” in more than $1 billion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippine-health-ministry-says-no-corruption-13-bln-pandemic-funds-2021-08-14 in COVID-19 spending.
Duque on Wednesday told Reuters the government was working on the release of benefits but appealed for more time.
The Philippine Nurses Association held its own protest virtually to demand better working conditions and more staff at hospitals, nearly a third of which have reached “critical levels” of over 85% occupancy, according to government data.
Like elsewhere in Southeast Asia where vaccination rates are low, the highly transmissible Delta variant has sees deaths climb and cases soar, with a daily record 22,366 cases in the Philippines on Monday.
(Writing by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)