08 September 2021 – The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) prodded the Department of Health (DOH) to hasten its review of its policies for the possible expansion of the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) coverage to include all health workers who served in hospitals and other health facilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, only health workers who were directly exposed to COVID-19 are entitled to the SRA.

But Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, ARTA Director General, said this is difficult to determine because anyone can get exposed to the deadly disease in hospitals and other health facilities.

“Huwag na po natin piliin ang mga bibigyan ng SRA dahil it is almost impossible to say who is a direct contact of a COVID-19 positive patient pagdating sa ospital. Minsan, pintuan palang ng ospital may mae-encounter ka na na positive pala sa COVID-19,” Belgica said.

The ARTA chief also said that the DOH should no longer compute the health workers’ SRA based on how many days they physically went to work and should instead grant them the maximum amount of P5,000 per month.

Administrative Order No. 36, Series of 2021 states that the grant of the COVID-19 SRA will be pro-rated based on the number of days that health workers physically went to work.

In the DOH and the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) Joint Circular No. 1, Series of 2021, it is said that public and private health workers may receive a monthly SRA not exceeding P5,000 per month.

Belgica said computing the amount that health workers should receive based on the number of days when they physically went to work may have been a factor that caused the delay in the disbursement of the SRA.

“Hirap na hirap na po ang health workers natin na walang tigil sa pagtatrabaho ngayong pandemya. Sana ay padaliin na po natin ang proseso sa pagkuha nila ng kanilang mga benepisyo dahil marapat lamang na matanggap nila iyon,” he said.

“We are in a volatile period in history. This is why we must continuously review our processes to ensure that we are delivering efficient service and implementing sound policies for the Filipino people,” he added.

On 6 September, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go released a statement with a similar sentiment, appealing to the DOH to study the possibility of expanding the provision of the SRA to all health workers who are serving in health facilities during the pandemic.

Go, who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, reminded the health department to ensure that health workers are sufficiently supported as they are at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19.

In previous Senate hearings, Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Michael Aguinaldo agreed to coordinate with the health department and liberalize the eligibility of those entitled to receive the SRA so more health workers will be covered.

However, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that while he supports the liberalization of the SRA, it would be better for lawmakers to pass a legislation on it to protect DOH from audit flags by COA.

This, after COA noted in its 2020 annual report on the DOH that it paid P214 million to “unqualified” recipients.

The Authority has conducted meetings and hearings with the DOH, DBM, and groups of health workers to discuss ways to resolve the issue.

These coordinations will help speed up the determination and release of the SRA for health workers because the procedural layers will be decreased.

In one of these meetings, the DOH and DBM said they are continuously finding sources and ways to provide for the needed benefits of health workers.

“Gaya po ng lagi kong sinasabi, ang red tape sa panahon ng pandemya ay nakamamatay. Kaya mas mabuti na pong magtulong-tulong tayo para tuluyan na nating matalo ang COVID-19 na patuloy na nagpapahirap sa mga kapwa natin Pilipino,” Belgica said.

The SRA is a benefit granted to health workers that is separate from their hazard pay and is equivalent to 25 percent of their monthly salary.

Thousands of health workers have yet to receive their SRAs amid supposed budget constraints. With this, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has repeatedly called on the concerned government agencies to give health workers their due.