President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he wants to raise the PHP5,000 Special Risk Allowance (SRA) of volunteer healthcare workers to augment the country’s medical workforce amid soaring Covid-19 infections.

In a prerecorded meeting with Cabinet officials, Duterte called on medical graduates who have completed the first four years of medical course or those waiting for results of their board exam to volunteer, vowing to increase their stipend.

“In think that the PHP5,000 is masyadong maliit (is too small) considering the attendant danger to the guys…They should be given more. Take into account the possibility of danger that they themselves will get…because they have to go near and they have to treat those people. I will increase, hindi ko pa masabi magkano (but I cannot say how much yet),” he said.

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said they are giving the PHP5,000 as a stipend “on top of a much higher compensation”, but noted that it would still depend if volunteers directly deal with Covid-19 patients.

He noted that the SRA is given on top of the hazard duty pay and salaries given to healthcare workers.

He, however, agreed that PHP5,000 is “a pittance” that will not attract or incentivize volunteers “considering the risk they will face.”

“A much higher amount is in order, Mr. President,” Duque said.

Duterte vowed to look for funds to raise their compensation, assuring the government has enough funds to pay them.

“To those who are entertaining the idea of getting into the role of volunteers, I will raise the amount,” he said.

“Tutal, ano ba naman yung pera. Ubusin na natin yung pera ng gobyernong ‘to para sa (Let’s use up the government funds),” he quipped, saying he does not think that government would run out of money because Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez is “a very resourceful person.”

He said the government could always loan from development partners like the World Bank.

“Nandiyan naman ang World Bank. Hiram tayo pag wala nang pera (The World Bank is there. We can borrow money if we run out of funds),” he said.

Meanwhile, Duque assured that the DOH is continually hiring healthcare workers under the Human Resources for Health program and loaning medical personnel from areas with low Covid-19 infections as well as from the military and police to boost the country’s healthcare workforce.

The Bayanihan to Health as One Act (R.A. 11469) gives the President the power “to engage temporary Human Resources for Health to complement or supplement the current health workforce” in the country while the Medical Act of 1959 (R.A. 2382) stipulates “Medical graduates who have completed the first four years of medical course, or graduates of medicines may be given limited authorization by the Secretary of Health to render services during epidemics or national emergencies whenever the services of duly registered physicians are not available”. (PNA)

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