Last week, the Department of Health (DOH) called for volunteer doctors and other health workers to man posts at designated COVID-19 hospitals, and was met with outrage over the offered rate of P500 a day, an amount clearly not commensurate with the risk and difficulty facing the “volunteers.” The DOH was quick to backpedal; this weekend the health undersecretary apologized for the offense and assured the public that, with release of a supplemental budget, more suitable compensation packages would be arranged. A similar statement with the promise of better pay (at least P50,000 a month for physicians and P22,000 for nurses) has been made by ACT-CIS party list Rep. Eric Go Yap. It’s something of a pleasant surprise, as previous impassioned calls by health care workers — for better compensation, for improved health care infrastructure and delivery—were not met with such swift, apologetic responses. As of this writing, the exact revisions have yet to be announced.
In the meantime, the public continues to seethe. Detractors blamed physicians for seeking a better and more just compensation rather than being motivated purely by altruism and a desire to serve in a time of emergency. The argument places the blame and the brunt of responsibility on skilled and expert individuals who would be facing exhaustion and the risk of illness and death, rather than on the government, which had to be backed into a corner before it would even consider adjusting its rates.
But so the narrative has gone for the duration of the pandemic anyway: despite the promise of an expansive budget for battling the novel coronavirus, it’s the private sector and individuals who continuously support those at the frontlines and shore up the gaps which the government is painfully slow to address. Social media is lit with calls for donations, and now more than ever, donors and groups have come through, raising millions and supplying unprecendented amounts in protective equipment, food, and sanitation supplies to those who need them most. “Bayanihan na!” it says on posters from the Philippine General Hospital: a call to arms, a call for donors and volunteers.
There is also, thankfully, a greater appreciation for those who continue to work not just as health care professionals but as security guards, grocery store and marketplace clerks, delivery personnel, janitors, laundry personnel, waste collectors, and other
“essential” professions. Social media posts and gifts have done a valuable job of boosting morale. It’s fortunate that the value of these workers and health care professionals is being recognized in the present, but the current situation sheds a light on poor compensation in these devalued sectors.
In a society now reduced to the most essential of its moving parts, the importance of these hidden faces should be plain to see, and more valuable than supportive social media posts and red ribbons would be the promise of better compensation and benefits. Different surveys estimate the average monthly salary of janitors at around P12,000. Cashiers earn slightly higher at around P13,000 to P17,000 per month. Nurse salaries vary from P19,000 to P25,000 in government institutions, depending on pay grade, and can be substantially lower elsewhere. Previous estimates of Mocha Uson’s monthly pay pointed to P150,000. Higher-ups in government have salaries that are simply astronomical in comparison — enjoyed even by certain prominent individuals who have caused more harm than good in this time of crisis. This unpleasant, even unjust, disparity should continue to spur us to anger long after the current pandemic is controlled. Even as the crisis shows the softer and kinder sides of many, it continues to expose and highlight unacceptable inequity. “Bayanihan na!” might be the call today, but when the dust settles, “Katarungan” and “Katuwiran” ought to be our watchwords.
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