A Timeline of State Hostility towards Healthcare Workers
CELEBRATED BY the public as heroes, our healthcare workers have cared for the sick and saved lives, standing guard on the frontlines against COVID-19 from the earliest stages of the outbreak. The number of fatalities among medical workers made headlines in the first few months when the lack of PPEs heightened their vulnerability. In the second year of the pandemic, they continue to live in danger, given the COVID-19 variants that have mutated during the crisis.
In the beginning, some Filipinos, out of fear and ignorance, shunned medical workers, refusing them services particularly in public transport and housing. But there has since been strong public consensus that acknowledges a shared debt of gratitude, hailing their service, commitment and dedication. Various groups have also offered assistance, PPEs, meals, and quarters closer to where they work.
But things have not gone smoothly with government. Sadly, some public officials balked at considering more appropriate hazard pay and allowances for health workers in addition to their regular compensation. One would have expected those in authority to appreciate the value of the work of these frontliners.
However, media have reported some persons in authority insulting and making dismissive statements about medical workers, all of which were echoed by the chorus of Duterte supporters on social media. As recently revealed in the news, only recently has government moved to pay health workers their due. Still, verbal attacks have escalated, with the red-tagging of some medical workers and the presidential mouthpiece himself berating doctors in a meeting when they were asked to share their views.
CMFR has recorded the hostility against health workers by a government that has failed to protect them and its people — as reported by the media.
PHP 500 for Volunteers
In March 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) offered PHP 500 for the daily allowance of COVID-19 hospital volunteers. Further, government also decided that there would be no compensation for doctors who volunteer for the telemedicine position or take phone consultations in government hospitals.
Several healthcare workers expressed their dismay over the offer, saying that it only made them feel even worse about the already low pay of nurses. In the Philippines, data showed that the average salary for an entry-level registered nurse is PHP 8,000 to PHP 13,500 per month.
Screengrab of DOH’s post along with the top comments in its FB page
Lucky to die?
In March of 2020, Duterte dismissed reports of the rising number of deaths of health workers due to COVID-19, stating that “Napakaswerte nila. Namatay sila para sa bayan. (They are so lucky. They died for the country.) It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you.” These comments were after at least nine doctors had died of COVID-19 while working in hospital emergency rooms.
Screengrab from Philstar.com
“Just work harder”
In August 2020, Senator Cynthia Villar, when asked for her comments on health workers who were asking for a two week “timeout” said in a radio interview: “Hindi na siguro. Pagbutihin nila trabaho nila” (Perhaps there’s no need. They should just do their jobs better). The timeout issue arose during a period of rising infections when hospital capacity was nearing its limits.
Screengrab from ABS-CBN News
Call for Help
In August 2020, President Duterte scolded health workers for ‘calling for a revolution’ when health workers were asking for a stricter quarantine classification and for help. “There is no need for you and for the guys of you telling us what to do publicly. You could have just written us a letter… Next time, you can just ask for an audience. Alam mo, sa totoo, alam niyo hindi ninyo ako kilala talaga. Magsabi kayo revolution, then ngayon na. Go ahead. Try it. Sirain natin itong bayan. Patayin natin lahat ng may COVID… Kayo ang makatulong sana at wala kayong ginagawa kung ‘di magreklamo.”
(You know, you don’t know me. If you call for a revolution, let’s do it now. Go ahead. Try it. Let’s destroy this country. Let’s kill everyone who has COVID… You should be the ones helping but all you’re doing is complain.)
Taken aback and surprised, health workers responded that they were just calling for help and reporting the real state of health workers.
Screengrab from PCP’s FB Page
Giving and Taking Away
In September 2020, the Department of Budget Management (DBM) issued a circular that did upgrade the salaries of nurses but reverted their positions to a lower level, affecting nurses who have waited for years to be promoted from Nurse I to Nurse II. The circular was supposed to upgrade the entry-level Nurse I position to Salary Grade 15 as stated in Republic Act no. 9173 – a legal provision that had not been implemented for 18 years.
Screengrab from DBM
Red-tagging Health Workers
On April 28, 2021, members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict hung tarpaulins with Nurse Jane Ruiz’s name and picture tagging her as member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Jane Ruiz from Amulung, Cagayan is a public health nurse working for the Department of Health Region 2 Office.
Screengrab from Philstar.com
No Right to Protest?
On August 30, 2021, government adviser Teddy Herbosa shared a tweet thanking healthcare workers, but wrote on his caption, “except yung mga nagprotest ha!”
Apart from this, Herbosa previously drew flak over his insensitive “death by community pantry” tweet when an elderly person died while waiting in line at a community pantry in Quezon City.
Screengrab from Twitter
Tirade from Presidential Mouthpiece
On September 9, 2021, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque lashed out during the online IATF meeting after a group of doctors pleaded for stricter quarantine classification during the current surge. “Do not sit there as if you’re the only ones right… How dare you think that we are not considering steps to prevent the loss of lives?… And let me point out to everyone, this group, they have never said anything good about the government response,” he said, pointing a finger at his computer screen. The outburst was recorded on a cellphone and leaked to the public.
Screengrab from Inquirer.net
Hard to believe that a government can be so heartless and insensitive about the obvious needs of front liners. But the record shows the truth of it all.