Nalzaro: Were those ‘heroic missionaries’ forced?

I am not against sending a reenforcement or augmentation force of medical personnel to the National Capital Region (NCR), which has been hounded by the increasing number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases. This is the time that we should show our spirit of volunteerism and bayanihan. But if those medical personnel were forced because of intimidation and coercion by terminating their temporary employment status with the Department of Health (DOH) 7 and the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), that is another story.

An official of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) told reporters that some of those who went with the delegation were not there on their own volition. They were forced under some circumstances or “left with no choice.” “Wala tuod pugsanay apan walay balibaray,” said Joseph Stephen Descallar, a PNA Cebu chapter official, earlier told reporters. He said that some of the members of the mission were forced because their superiors from DOH 7 and VSMMC threatened not to renew their contracts. Most of those who went with the delegation were contractual employees. The first batch was composed of 11 doctors, 35 nurses and four medical technologists.

However, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav), which initiated the move, denied the allegations.

“Looks like there’s a deliberate attempt to embarrass and malign the efforts of Visayas and also insult our health care workers (HCWs) and frontliners who willfully, bravely and heroically went to NCR Plus to serve our brothers and sisters there,” said newly promoted Opav Undersecretary Jonji Gonzales.

Gonzales said that “our heroic doctors and nurses are of legal age and mature enough to say ‘yes’ or say ‘no’ to the deployment.” He said that during the send-off ceremony, Opav Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino gave them his personal number for them to call if they needed any assistance. But, so far, the Opav has not received any complaint from any member of the delegation.

Well, Undersecretary Gonzales, having attained legal and maturity age, is not the sole basis that a person has the right perspective or decision to discern what is right or wrong, especially if he/she is under threat or duress. Even mature and professional persons can be pressured in exchange for any other consideration or by imposing a condition.

Will you not succumb to pressure in exchange for your regular or prolonged employment? According to a famous Cebuano saying: “Kung ang tawo nagkinahanglan, bisan sa mahait nga labaha, mogunit na (If a person is in need, he’d hold on to anything).”

As to the incentives promised by Dino, does the Opav have budget for this? Dino promised them P5,000 every month. They will serve there for three months. What I have learned is that Opav only has a budget good for the salaries and wages of its limited staff. Remember, this is a special project. Dino even uses his own money to hire his personal public relations officers. Will he tap the resources of DOH 7 and VSMMC? Do these institutions have the extra budget for this? Will Sen. Bong Go, who requested Dino on this project, be willing to help provide the promised incentives?

When I discussed this issue during my radio program over dySS Super Radyo, a medical frontliner, who was a member of the delegation sent to Region 6, particularly in Iloilo City, when Covid cases surged in that area in the middle of last year, informed me that until now they haven’t received the hazard pay promised to them by the DOH 7. So, where is that promised incentive?

The outsourced employees of VSMMC also complained to me last month that until now they did not receive their hazard pay of P500 daily that the hospital management promised them when the pandemic broke out last year. Their work is to escort those found positive after being swabbed at the hospital to various quarantine facilities in the city. In fact, some of them had filed complaints before the Department of Labor. Promises are made to be broken. That’s what I am afraid of.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and Gov. Gwen Garcia also promised additional incentives. But there is no problem with them because they hold the bag with their annual budget. They can just request their respective Sangguniang to appropriate for the purpose. My only apprehension is that the Commission on Audit might intervene and question the move.

Well, all these nagging questions and apprehensions will be answered when these “heroic missionaries” will return after three months of deployment in NCR Plus. Pikatan unya nato ang mga nagpasiugda niini kung dunay moreklamo ug labi pa dili mahatag ang ilang gisaad nga incentives (We’ll hold into account those who initiated this move if there will be complaints later on).