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Duterte orders DOH to prioritize health workers’ benefits ‘if there is enough money’

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to prioritize the payment of allowances and other benefits due to the country’s health workers amid protest of some groups over delayed pays.

“Itong frontliners, unahin mo na lang, if there is enough money, bayaran mo,” Duterte said in his weekly recorded Cabinet briefing aired early dawn Tuesday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega were both present.

Several groups of health workers from both government hospitals and the private institutions have been complaining of the non-release of their special risk allowance and the removal of their other benefit such as meal and transportation allowance even as they continue to be at the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.

Some have threatened to go on mass leave over what they call government’s neglect of their plight.

At least P15 billion have been allocated for the health workers’ special risk allowance and hazard pay from the Bayanihan 2 law, which Vega earlier said have been release to the hospitals.

Duque had said he would look into reports some health workers have yet to receive their pay.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee also earlier said it will scrutinize the delayed or non-release of allowances in its public hearing on Wednesday on the alleged deficiencies in the Health department's use of its P67-billlion COVID-19 funds.

In its annual audit report for 2020, the Commission on Audit flagged the DOH over several deficiencies in the agency’s utilization of P67.32 billion in COVID-19 funds.

Vega, however, said, many of the major findings by the audit body have already been resolved.

Duterte said the deficiencies were mere incomplete paperwork, adding that agencies especially amid an emergency should be given more flexibility in spending funds.

"Kapag ang COA nagsabi sa deficiency, 'di mo masabi na ninakaw mong pera, deficiency is really in producing the necessary documents," he said.

"Alam ninyong emergency ito, it is a matter of life and death so you have to understand and give it a little elbow room to move. Make emergency purchases, kung wala, mag-utang kayo, ito utos ko sa lahat sa gobyerno, especially connected with COVID. Hindi ako papayag you do everything you can, mamatay ka, nakita mo yung frontliners, tapos wala kang ibigay na suporta," Duterte said.—LDF, GMA News