IT is no secret that among the medical professionals, nurses belong to the most underpaid and marginalized group, especially in connection with priorities and privileges in the work place. They render the most specialized service, work during odd hours, and report even during national emergencies – most especially during emergencies – because their calling takes the form of humanitarian service and patriotic duty.
The nation’s nurses were surprised and angry when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who received the backing of Congress through a joint resolution, downgraded the nurses’ pay from Salary Grade 15 (P30,531) under the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 to Salary Grade 11 (P20,754).
Arroyo reduced the nurses’ legal salary under authority from Congress, which passed Joint Resolution No. 4 in 2009 allowing the President to modify compensation and position classification in the bureaucracy. This action was questioned by Ang Nars party-list organization before the Supreme Court and after almost five years, the tribunal handed down its decision in favor of the nurses. The Supreme Court said Salary Grade 15 should be the entry-level pay for government nurses, since a mere joint resolution of Congress cannot amend a law.
The SC ruling is one of several decisions former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio wrote before he retired last month. The ruling was a victory of sorts for the Ang Nars party-list, which did not win any seat during the last elections. While Ang Nars is not represented in the House of Representatives, through sheer dedication and genuine caring for their colleagues, they were able to deliver real service to the nursing profession in terms of fighting the legal battle for the nurses. As an aside, we cannot say the same thing for many party-list organizations that are now warming their seats in Congress.
The nurses found another ally in the Senate, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson ensuring that the SC decision would be followed. Lacson said that the Senate, in its version of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020, has included a special provision stating that nurses should have a base pay of P30,531 a month in compliance with the High Court decision. Senators have reportedly realigned some P3 billion for this pay adjustment.
Low pay is one reason why we are losing our nurses in favor of their seeking employment abroad. They have been looking for greener pastures in foreign lands for decades now, and the exodus continues. Recent reports say from January to September this year, a total of 9,195 Filipino nurses hoping to land jobs in the United States took the US licensure examination.
With the implementation of the Supreme Court decision, and the continued support from senators and several congressmen in the legislature, a big number of our nursing professionals might reconsider going abroad. After all, who wants to leave their families here if the only reason is higher pay? The government may in a few years be able to upgrade their salaries some more.
Speaking of the nursing profession, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. correctly pointed out that the continuing exploitation of nurses by their employers should be exposed and opposed. Locsin said, “Nurses here are so exploited they even pay hospitals to be taken on for internship so they can add one more qualification to their resume for escaping this country to work in decent places in Europe and elsewhere.”
Perhaps we can begin by electing Ang Nars party-list to Congress the next time they file their candidacy, so that our nurses will continue to be served by a genuine voice in Congress.