Senate bill seeks compensation for coronavirus-hit health workers

MANILA, Philippines – After an entire day of deliberations, the Senate passed a bill that would give President Rodrigo Duterte special powers, which includes compensation for health workers who would be infected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

On Monday, March 23, the Senate plenary deliberated Senate Bill (SB) No. 1418, the substitution bill for SB 1413, which seeks to give President Rodrigo Duterte 30 special powers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

It was approved on third and final reading past 1 am Tuesday, March 24.

During the period of amendments, Senator Richard Gordon proposed that the families of public and private health workers who contracted COVID-19 and died while on the line of duty be compensated with P1 million.

Session was suspended for about 30 minutes as Senator Pia Cayetano, the primary sponsor of SB 1418, sought for comments on the proposed amendments.

Eventually, the amendments were adopted, including the proposal to compensate with P100,000 each health workers who contracted severe COVID-19 infection. 

SB 1418 was also amended to include a "special COVID-19 risk allowance," in addition to health workers' regular hazard pay while on duty.

Under the bill, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation would also be directed to shoulder health workers' medical expenses due to coronavirus exposure.

SB 1418's counterpart bill at the House of Representatives was approved late Monday, just before midnight. The Senate amendments for health workers were not included in the House version of the bill.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they are waiting on whether the lower chamber will adopt the measure. If so, then a bicameral conference committee will no longer have to convene.

If the House decides to ratify the Senate version, it could then be transmitted for the President's signature. If approved, the bill would be effective immediately after publication in a newspaper or on the Official Gazette.

President Rodrigo Duterte had called for a special session and sought for special powers from Congress to arrest the spread of coronavirus in the country. The Philippines is under a state of calamity due to the virus. 

As of Monday, the Philippines has 462 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 33 deaths and 18 recoveries.

The global death toll has reached 15,189, with 5,476 of the fatalities in Italy and 3,270 in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau). The number of cases worldwide has risen to 341,300, with 81,093 cases in China and 59,138 cases in Italy. The virus has spread to 174 countries. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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