By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
Fernando Calion, Jr., nurse supervisor of Baguio General Hospital, said despite the lack of nurses in the country, many chose to work abroad because the salary in the country is not enough.
According to him, RA 9173 or the Philippine Nurses Act enacted in 2002 requires Salary Grade 15 (P30,000-P31,000) for entry-level nurses. However, he only received P12,000 or Salary Grade 11 when he started to work in 2015.
“Yet until today, 17 years after the approval of the law, it is not being implemented still,” he lamented.
Calion said that many nurses even receive P4,000 to 8,000 monthly salaries. He noted that many agree to the meager salary just to get experience so they can apply for better-paying jobs abroad.
This reality prompted him to join the Nurses National Day of Unity and Protest, a nationwide action of nurses to inform the public of their plight and demands. More than 150 nurses and nursing students marched down Session Road around 4:30 pm on November 8. The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) chapter in the city led the protest to call for just wages and a healthy working environment for health workers.
Calion, together with other protesters chanted “Sahod itaas, SG 15 ibigay, ibigay!” as they pass through the Baguio City’s business center down to the People’s Park. Nurses and nursing schools in other parts of Northern Luzon also participated in the action by wearing black armbands, holding placards with the SG 15 call, and posting their photos and videos on social media.
In Manila earlier that day, the national leadership of the PNA briefed the media on the event.
“Itong araw na ito, na sa simula ay tinagurian naming national day of protest ay nagkaroon ng bagong mukha at ang mukha nito ay naging national day of unity towards a protest, naging sideline ang protest at nangibabaw ang konsepto ng unity,” said Dr. Erlinda Palaganas, national president of PNA.
According to her, PNA did not expect outpouring support from nurses all over the country.
“Sa tagal ng panahon na sinusubukan naming magkaisa at magsasamama ay ngayon lang talaga naming nadama ang samasama pagkilos na ito,” she added.
Call for protest
Pagalaganas revealed that the statement of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that nurses would not receive the mandated salary despite the Supreme Court ruling triggered the call for a national protest.
The secretary said the national budget does not include funds for the lawful salary of nurses as ruled by the Supreme Court (SC). The Department of Budget and Management also responded, noting that they are still studying the impact of the ruling on the budget for all government employees.
In October, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed that the entry-level salary for government nurses should be SG15 as provided by law. The decision came following a petition questioning the validity of Executive Order 811 issued by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordering SG11 as entry-level salary for nurses in public health institutions. The high court maintained that an EO could not amend a law but left the implementation of the law to Congress.
“Naiintindihan naman namin yun dahil sabi ngang ganun ng SC ay hindi automatic nga na makukuha ng mga nurses ang Salary Grade 15 because it needs another law to appropriate the funds for that effect,” Palaganas said.
However, she said they were disappointed with the cold and uninterested response of government officials, especially with Sec. Duque.
Palaganas underscored that they have longed for 17 years to receive their just and lawful salary. She said they were expecting the government to show a “window of hope” that they are doing something, looking for ways to give what is due to them.
“Yung may effort man lang sana na ipakita sila sa amin na mayroon silang gingawawa,” she added.
The PNA president stressed that the government could have called for dialogue with them to look at how they can implement the ruling while considering the national budget.
Job security and a better environment
PNA Kafagway (old name of Baguio) President Carmen Bolinto explained that the protest does not only aim to push for salary increase but also for job security and a better working environment for nurses.
She explained that apart from the low salary, most nurses are also job orders and contractual who do not have benefits and security of tenure.
“We work like zombies taking care of 40 to 60 patients for 16 hours, but the government has not given value to our sacrifices,” Bolinto said.
“If the nurses are sleepy and tired due to prolonged hours of shifts and taking care of too many patients, the patients will not receive the service they deserve,” she added.
She underscored that if the government can buy a P2B jet and appropriate P8.2B for intelligence funds, then there should be enough budget to increase the salary of nurses.
According to her, they remain silent for 17 years, but now nurses should be vigilant and have one voice to demand what is due them.
“Nothing is given in a silver platter; it is about time we make our voices heard,” she said.
Bolinto said she is a retired nurse but vowed to continue the fight for nurses’ rights.
Nurses in the academe
Nurses working in the academe also joined the actions and expressed their support for the demands of their colleagues in health and medical institutions.
Dean Judith Magwilang of the College of Nursing University Of Cordilleras said those in the academe also care for the welfare of nurses.
“We are here today to protest the government for not implementing Salary Grade 15 for entry nurses and to demand the government to implement measures to protect the welfare of nurses,” she said.
Magwilang, a longtime advocate of nurses’ rights and public health, became the subject of online red-tagging in April. She said fighting for just wages, and stable jobs is not a crime, and should not be the target of vilification campaign.
The dean of the Saint Luis University School of Nurses, Dr. Mary Grace Lacanaria, also sent her message read SLU Department Head Rachelle Pacial. In her message, the dean urged her colleagues in the nursing profession to work together to demand what is due them.# nordis.net