Filipino nurses want better leadership to deal with pandemic response

Screenshot from 1Sambayan forum on health workers

“This is a matter of survival to us, because we need to bring back good governance,” said retired Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.


MANILA — A group of Filipino nurses said they will support candidates who will offer a good platform on the pandemic response as the country continues to be buried neck-deep on how the Duterte administration is dealing with the spread of the dreaded virus.

In a phone interview with Bulatlat, Filipino Nurses United President Maristela Abenojar said they will look into electoral platforms that will aim to strengthen the public health system, implementation of mass testing and well-coordinated contact tracing, mass hiring of nurses, and the availability of vaccines in more communities.

Abejonar said the government’s inter-agency body that leads its pandemic response should have epidemiology experts because “it is very militaristic in its approach. Not medical. And health is not their priority.”

Total number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has already breached by more than a million last month. But the government’s COVID-19 response remains far from ideal, with much focus on its militarized response.

President Duterte has recently ordered the arrest of those purportedly not wearing masks properly.

Last week, health workers and advocates gathered in an online webinar organized by the 1Sambayan to look into how the government is upholding their rights and welfare.

The 1Sambayan was formed to unite all democratic forces from different sectors and offer better alternative leaders to the people in the upcoming 2022 national election. In a recorded video message, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said there is a need to bring back good governance.

“(This pandemic) will not end in 2021 or 2022. It may go beyond that and we have a long journey ahead of us. So we need to elect people who will act fast, with compassion and understanding,” Abenojar said.

Health workers’ situation

More than a year since the pandemic, health workers are still pressing on the government to look into their rights and welfare.

Abenojar said during the 1Sambayan online forum that nurses and frontline health workers are neglected and exploited. Low wages, long hours of work, and lack of protection are among struggles they face everyday.

“Health workers are like sacrificial lambs to this pandemic,” Abenojar said. She also shared that there are several health workers who were infected twice by COVID-19 but have yet to receive any benefits due them.

Among these are their hazard pay and the special risk and active hazard pay duty allowances, as stipulated in the Bayanihan Law 2.

The total number of health workers infected by the virus as of April 28, 2021 is 17, 409 with 88 deaths, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

Abenojar added that nurses also suffer from great demoralization due to demotion in rank and one of the reasons nurses in the Philippines are forced to take early retirement, resign and seek better opportunities overseas.

Health system

The Philippines has the longest and strictest lockdown in the world.

Under this, the country’s economy contracted by 9.6 percent in 2020, according to data of Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA). This is the lowest since World War II and fared as the worst in the southeast Asia region.

“If we are to have a good pandemic response, our health system has to have proactive, organized, well-integrated and effectively led characteristics,” Dr. Manuel Dayrit, former dean of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, said.

Dayrit lamented that while there are 45 laws passed in the last 67 years and an average rate of one law passed every one in a half year for our health system, “the system is not working.”

Meanwhile, Abenojar said health workers are set to meet soon to craft their electoral agenda. (

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