It took a long time coming—almost 17 years since it was specified in Sec. 32 of the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002—but the country’s nurses finally got what they deserve to get: a definitive mandate for decent compensation commensurate to the knowledge, skills and hours that they put into their job.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the base pay of entry-level nurses should be no lower than Salary Grade 15, which is equivalent to P30,000 a month. That’s a clear victory for the country’s public nurses, except for a catch: The high court also left it up to Congress to look for funding.
The ruling was in response to the petition filed by the Ang Nars party list in 2015 which noted that, despite the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002, their pay has been relegated to Salary Grade 10-11, based on Executive Order No. 811 issued during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. That nurses who have to pass tough licensure exams are paid, at most, Salary Grade 10 or P19,233 a month, while favored government appointees like former entertainer and now Deputy Administrator for the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration Mocha Uson get many times more than that (Uson is paid P155,000), speaks of the government’s warped priorities. While education and health are widely acknowledged as basic necessities for a decent life, the country’s teachers and nurses remain among the lowest paid.
Just as disheartening is the impending loss of jobs among some 7,000 public health nurses if the proposed P9.39-billion cut in the health department’s budget pushes through, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto warned recently. “If not reversed, it will turn us into an archipelago of dismissed nurses,” he added. Those dismissals, in turn, are bound to result in a less than ideal nurse to patient ratio. At the Philippine General Hospital which accommodates as many as 650,000 patients a year, the current nurse-patient ratio is 1:16 in the wards and 1:28 in the emergency room—far from the 1:12 ideal.
They’re also leaving in droves. Data for 2017 from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration show that 92,277 nurses have left the country to work abroad since 2012. That’s almost 19,000 nurses leaving every year. And with good reason: The Bureau of Local Employment under the labor department cites a salary of P8,000 to P13,500 a month for entry-level government nurses. In private hospitals, the average salary is P10,000 a month. Compare that to what they could easily earn abroad: an average of $3,800 (P205,412.80) a month in the United States, £1,662 (P118,706.69) in the United Kingdom and C$4,097 (P171,530.10) in Canada.
The low priority given the country’s health professionals is reflected as well in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, where the Philippines slipped eight notches, placing 64th out of 141 countries, lower than last year’s 56th spot. It got an overall score of 61.9, lower than its 62.1 points in 2018. The Global Competitiveness Index provides a detailed map of the factors that drive productivity, growth, and human development in 141 economies, which account for 99 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Not surprisingly, the Philippines’ lowest ranking was in health, at 102nd overall.
The dismal state of nurses’ pay has prompted calls from Filipino Nurses United for the “renationalization” of health services, as they describe the current devolved system as being politicized and subject to the personal priorities of local government officials. And now that the Supreme Court has pointed to Congress to look for extra funds to redress the inequities in nurses’ pay, lawmakers should revisit the Duterte administration’s proposed budget and redirect allocations where necessary. As Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon correctly pointed out, “If the government is willing to buy a P2-billion jet and if it can boldly ask Congress for a record-breaking P8.2-billion intelligence and confidential fund, I do not see any reason why we cannot fund the adjustment in the salary of our nurses.”
Drilon was referring to the P2-billion fixed-wing jet aircraft the Philippine Air Force is acquiring for the President and ranking military officials supposedly for use in times of emergency. “Excess fats” in the P4.1-trillion 2020 spending budget could also be trimmed and allocated to fill up 7,193 Nurse 1 positions in government hospitals, he added.
The government has billions of funds to lavish on the President’s pet programs; surely, if it is willing to, it could cough up the relative pittance required to improve the lot of Filipino nurses, and by extension the state of health of the country under their care.
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