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Thursday, December 7, 2023

DOH budget 8th biggest among 10 agencies; frontline workers unhappy

Health workers from state hospitals and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) on Wednesday blasted the government for failing to spend enough on people’s safety, protection, welfare and health.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health (DOH) budget comprises only 4.81 percent of the proposed P5.024 trillion national budget for 2022, said Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) president Robert Mendoza.

The 2022 proposed DOH budget amounting to P242 billion is deceptive, he added, because 33 percent or the P79.9 billion is allotted to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth).

The actual DOH budget under the Office of the Secretary allotment is only P157 billion. The budget for the 76 public hospitals that directly provide health services to the people falls under this item.

“Contrary to the Duterte government’s proud claim that the DOH budget ranks fourth, facts showed that among the 10 agencies of the government, DOH only ranks eighth with an allotted budget of only P157 billion,” Mendoza said.

He said the government has put its “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program at the top of its priorities, as the Department of Public Works and Highways has a budget of P686.1 billion, almost four times as much as the DOH budget.

The DOH budget, he said, is akin to allotting only P3.86 per Filipino per day.

“Obviously, the 2022 proposed health budget does not reflect the Duterte government’s serious effort in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the budget showed gross neglect of people’s health and safety in this time of worsening health crisis,” he said.

Millions of pesos in budget cuts in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) at government-owned hospitals would directly hurt Batanes General Hospital, Regional II Trauma and Medical Center, Bicol Region General Hospital, Mindanao Central Sanitarium at Zamboanga Peninsula, Philippine Children’s Medical Center, the Lung Center of the Philippines, the Philippine Heart Center, and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute.

The MOOE of Philippine General Hospital was also cut down to P130 million.

“Cutting MOOE budget means more burden to poor patients admitted to these hospitals especially now that there is a pandemic,” Mendoza said.

He said patients will have to pay more because hospitals will be forced to increase their fees for laboratory and diagnostics services, medicines, supplies and room rates as part of their income generation efforts.

Even National Referral Laboratories (NRL) have cuts in their MOOE namely: DOH Central Office NRL has a P10 million cut, East Ave Medical Center NRL has P8 million cut and RITM with a P170 million cut.

The Personnel Services (PS) budget for Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital was also cut down by P303 million. The budget for PS is intended for the salaries of health workers or government employees.

Meanwhile, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the P5.024 trillion national budget for 2022 must be able to keep pace with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[There are] no provisions (in the national budget) for the vaccination of minors, the special risk allowance (SRA) for health workers, and other items related to the government’s response to the COVID-19 variants, including the highly-infectious Delta variant,” said Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee,

With the emergence of Delta and the other COVID variants, he said the requirements of frontline agencies are constantly moving. The situation is changing rapidly and so the budget process must keep up, he said.

On the budget for the vaccination program, the Department of Budget and Management noted that the proposed 2022 national budget only contains funding for the purchase of booster shots for individuals who have already completed their jabs in the amount of P45 billion under the unprogrammed fund and not for the inoculation of children aged 12 to 17.

It was only in June when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to allow its use on 12 to 15-year old children.

Earlier this month the FDA also granted the emergency use of Moderna’s vaccine for children aged 12 to 17.

DBM OIC Tina Canda admitted during the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) briefing that “certain adjustments must be done” with the proposed budget of the Department of Health.

In the case of the SRA, Angara said the DBM did not include funding for this benefit for health workers because of the expiration of

Republic Act 11519 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) where this was introduced.

As the sponsor and author of Bayanihan 2, Angara has noted that the SRA is among the various benefits for health workers that will continue even after the expiry of Bayanihan 2 for as long as the state of public health emergency as declared by President Duterte is in place.

Angara and Senator Richard Gordon have filed Senate Bill 2371 to remove any confusion regarding the continued grant of the SRA and other benefits under Bayanihan 2. The committee on finance is set to conduct a hearing on the bill.

The DBM has also noted that there is no item in next year’s budget for testing and contact tracing, something which Angara and the other senators said should be funded as integral components of the country’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Angara said there may also be a need to include cash assistance, especially with some areas under lockdown due to the fluctuations in the number of active COVID cases.

Due to this, Angara sees the need for more flexibility in the processes involved in the annual submission of the national budget to keep up with the constantly changing demands and situation on the ground during the pandemic.

At a hearing of the House appropriations committee, meanwhile, the

Department of Transportation said funding for its service contracting program to help public utility drivers while offering the public free rides during the pandemic has been removed in the 2022 national budget.

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