House plea for B2 benefits to private health workers succeeds

THE House of Representatives succeeded in its lobby for the inclusion of private health workers in the beneficiaries of the P10,000 coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) special risk allowance under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2).

This after the bicameral conference committee, led by House Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte and Sen. Sonny Angara, decided during its first meeting on August 14 to adopt a provision in the House's version of Bayanihan 2 that seeks to allocate a total of P10.5 billion in various compensations for medical frontliners, including a special risk allowance not just for public healthcare workers (HCWs) but also for private HCWs who are treating COVID-19 patients.

Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which expired last June, had granted the benefit only to public HCWs, but House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House was aiming to acknowledge the equal efforts being exerted by HCWs in private hospitals.

"In any crisis, the government is forced to prioritize with limited resources; you will have to ask the private sectors to, as much as they can, manage it on their own so the most disadvantaged ones can be accommodated. But at this point in this pandemic, there is hardly that distinction," Cayetano said.

The latest draft of Bayanihan 2 sets the special risk allowance at a minimum of P10,000, which will be tax-exempt.

With the adoption of the provision, the House is also now one step closer to institutionalizing free life insurance, accommodation, transportation, and meals for all public and private medical front-liners for the duration of the pandemic.

"No amount of money could repay the blood, sweat, and tears shed by our health workers, but taking care of those extra things for them can go a long way. And it will allow them to focus more on taking care of our kababayans," Cayetano said. 

Under the adopted provision, the House was also able to push for compensation for public and private HCWs who contracted COVID-19 with mild symptoms and those who have died of the disease. For public and private HCWs who have contracted severe COVID-19 infection while in the line of duty from February 1, 2020 onwards, the bicameral committee adopted the provision of P100,000 in compensation from the House and Senate versions of Bayanihan 2.

If enacted, Bayanihan 2 will allocate funding of around P162 billion for COVID-19 response and resilient recovery programs.

"Basically we are targeting two things: first, to come up with short-term solutions so we can effectively manage the pandemic, and second, to design measures in response to the crisis in a way that will bring long-term positive effects to our economy moving forward," Cayetano said.