By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Employees Compensation Commission (ECC) in Western Visayas on Thursday said that it has released up to ₱4 million in compensation to public and private sector employees and self-employed persons who contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) within the last two years.
The attached agency of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) tasked to provide compensation for work-related illnesses and injuries awarded COVID-related compensation to 7 workers on Tuesday – 3 each in Iloilo and Negros Occidental, and 4 in Capiz.
ECC Regional Head Stephene Barredo described their process as being “more lenient” towards those who contracted COVID-19 in the course of their work.
He said that the ECC and the DOLE have already declared COVID as a work-related illness, and touted the country as the first in Southeast Asia to do so.
“The cash assistance benefit [is] given for those workers who have contracted COVID-19 while working. The good thing right now when it comes to COVID-19, we are not very strict[.] Actually, we are very lenient, [and] we are just asking you to provide a certificate of employment on the last day of duty prior to contracting the illness to prove the work-relatedness of COVID-19,” Barredo said in a press conference.
ECC’s data as of March 16 indicated that they have received 514 walk-in claims for COVID compensation since 2021, and there are 114 claims waiting to be released.
They all received up to ₱10,000 in compensation, with the families of recipients who have died from COVID entitled to receive up to ₱15,000.
This assistance from the ECC is on top of other claims that they may receive from other Government Financial Institutions including the Social Security System (SSS) or the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
The number of recipients does not include those which were filed online, and Barredo noted that they have currently suspended online applications for claims.
DOLE-Western Visayas Assistant Regional Director Dax Villaruel also touted the creation of the ECC via Presidential Decree No. 626, issued by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in 1974.
“True to its commitment, through the years [the ECC] has untiringly served thousands of affected workers. The recent COVID pandemic [has] made us aware of the passion and dedication of the men and women behind this office, who braved the virus and provided assistance to those who needed it. This achievement is worth emulating,” Villaruel said.
Villaruel also said that they are in the process of designating focal persons for the task of processing ECC claims in the provinces and other areas, to save the workers’ burden of having to submit their claims in Iloilo.
This was based on a February 2023 memorandum from DOLE Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma to assign focal persons for the swifter processing of claims.
But Barredo noted that this was in addition to existing agreements with local hospitals and other health facilities in each province to provide subsidized rehabilitation services to injured or sick employees.
RETURN TO WORK
Villaruel also touted the recent renewal of their agreement with the West Visayas State University Medical Center (WVSUMC).
Under the agreement, rehabilitative services will be provided to affected workers to help them return to their current jobs or find other employment or livelihood opportunities, all chargeable to the ECC.
“In a competitive labor market, assisting them to re-employ in their previous jobs or finding them another job is not an easy task. Rehabilitating and helping workers to become productive again is bringing back their self-worth and self-respect. There is nothing more humane than lifting a person’s dignity,” he said.
This is also in relation to another program of the ECC, the Return To Work Assistance Program (RTWAP), providing aid to workers who had been hampered by diseases or injuries.
Mark Lester Flores, the regional focal person for the ECC’s RTWAP in the region, explained that the program’s success is mainly dependent on the earliness or immediacy of the assistance provided to the worker.
“The clients should file first with our system before we can provide them with the benefits they need, including rehabilitation, physical therapy sessions, and also the training for livelihood provision, starter kits, and complimentary kits,” said Flores.
The pilot launching was done in the CALABARZON Region (Region 4-A) last February 28, with partner hospitals, employers, and non-government organizations being apprised of the program as key stakeholders.
The ECC on its website described the RTWAP as “an interdisciplinary approach to rehabilitation support that aims to facilitate employees who figured in work-related accidents’ recovery as well as safe and timely return to employment,” modeled after the Social Security Organization of Malaysia’s Return to Work Program framework introduced in 2007.