SENATOR Joel Villanueva has asked for the immediate release of P9 billion intended for the duty pay of healthcare workers in the country.

The official said there is P51 billion in the 2022 national budget for Covid-19 duty pay of public and private healthcare workers (HCWs) and to compensate them if they get sick or die from the virus.

Of this, P9 billion can be immediately released as it is booked as regular appropriations, Villanueva said.

“Itong pondong ito ang sure ball na,” he added.

The rest, or P42 billion, is lodged under the Unprogrammed Appropriations, which under budget laws can only be released if financed by excess revenues or new loans.

He said this can be funded based on the government’s planned borrowing spree this year.

But to unlock the P9 billion in regular appropriations so it can be availed of by medical frontliners battling the Omicron surge, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Department of Health (DOH) must first issue the guidelines for their use, Villanueva said.

“Kaya po sa ating mga kaibigan sa DOH and DBM, nakikiusap po tayo na apurahin ang implementing guidelines nito para sa ating mga medical frontliners,” Villanueva said.

Of the P9 billion, P7.92 billion will be used for the payment of Covid-19 benefits for all public and private health care workers and non-health care workers, regardless of employment status.

Covered are workers in all health facilities involved in Covid-19 response, including military hospitals, GOCC medical facilities, state university hospitals and private licensed health facilities.

The rest, or P1.08 billion, is earmarked as compensation for Covid-19 workers in health facilities who had contracted the virus while on duty.

Under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) 2022, infected workers, on top of benefits like free medical care, will receive P15,000 if the case is mild or moderate, P100,000 for severe or critical case, and P1 million in case of death.

Villanueva said the P9 billion should be treated as first and smaller tranche in Covid-19 allowances for healthcare workers, as he expressed optimism that the unprogrammed P42 billion can be released based on the government’s borrowing plan.

“Kayang pondohan po ito, kasi P2.47 trillion ang balak utangin ng gobyerno ngayong 2022,” the senator pointed out.

“This amounts to P6.76 billion of debt incurred daily. Yung P42 billion, wala pa pong isang linggong utang,” he said.