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Recto zaps measly Health budget

Health share of the P1 trillion infrastructure pie under the proposed 2021 budget is a measly “1 percent,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, describing it as “a kind of budget prioritization that turns a blind eye to the health facility shortages the pandemic has laid bare.” 

“This is pandemic denialism,” Recto said, who pushed  for a larger share for public health in the P1 trillion capital outlay component of next year’s proposed P4.506 trillion national budget.

“It’s like after World War II. Manila was in total wreck, but you won’t allot not even a single cent for its reconstruction,” Recto said.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday asked the House of Representatives to increase the health department’s allocation for its Health Facilities Enhancement Program, which was launched for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law.

The Department of Health was allotted P127 billion in the Malacanang-proposed General Appropriations Act for 2021 that is now being deliberated upon in the House.

During the hearing of the House’s appropriations committee Friday, Duque said: “We sent a letter to the Honorable Speaker [Alan Cayetano] with regard to our request of augmenting the approved budget on HFEP with an additional P10 billion.”

“We are requesting this to address the concerns of several members of Congress on additional support for improving the infrastructure of our hospitals, rural health units, local government hospitals, health care facilities, as well as military hospitals, especially that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the functionality of our infrastructure and implementation of UHC Law.” 

Recto said the government’s Build-Build-Build blueprint should “accommodate changes” the pandemic has made urgent and inevitable.

“If we are willing to spend P1 trillion on BBB, why not also have a BBB for our local hospitals? “ he asked.

He said there was nothing in the budget to increase bed capacity at the local level – district, provincial or regional hospitals.

Recto said the government’s proposed capital outlay for 2021 was P1.039 trillion, including P87 billion in standby “unprogrammed appropriations.”

But the DOH share, he said, was P15.6 billion, or 1.5 percent of the total.

He noted that the P5.5 billion of the P15.6 billion “is parked at the Unprogrammed Fund, which means it can only be released if revenue targets are hit and if loans for the projects can be secured.”

Among the projects in the Health Facilities Enhancement Program for 2021 are new health facilities (P4.7 billion), P5.5 billion under the Unprogrammed Fund for the construction of primary healthcare facilities, and P900 million for isolation facilities funded by a loan from the ADB. 

“The budget for new transportation equipment for the entire DOH is P25 million only for next year. The new buildings are P2.2 billion, like one-fourth of 1 percent only of the total infra budget,” he added. 

If the government will go on a borrowing spree next year, he said it would be better if “the health dividend is big.”

Because the programmed revenue collection next year of P2.541 trillion will not be enough to finance the P4.506 trillion budget, “government will borrow P3 trillion to fund the deficit and amortize debts.” 

Of the P3.025 trillion gross borrowing, P762 billion will be used to amortize debt while P1.749 trillion will cover the budget deficit. 

“So there’s overborrowing of P513.3 billion. It’s like a cash hoard. I hope the health service will get its share,” Recto said. 

“The pandemic is a CT-scan which gave us an image on how bad the internal structure of our public health system is,” Recto said.

Duque told members of the committee that the department submitted a budget of P45 billion for HFEP for 2021.

But the Department of Budget and Management approved only P4.7 billion, and another P5.5 billion under an unprogrammed fund, the release of which is dependent on the government’s “sin tax” collection.

Of the DOH’s proposed P169-billion budget for 2021, P38.9 billion was earmarked for the implementation of the UHC law.

At the same budget hearing, DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje told legislators that the Philippine government needs P12.9 billion for the purchase of vaccines against COVID-19.

“We need P12.9 billion,” Cabotaje said, noting that the department allocated only P2.5 billion while the rest of the amount can be applied as loan through Landbank. This is to enable the department to recover the remaining budget requirement,” Cabotaje said.

“The mechanism will be, we will borrow from Landbank, the purchase will be made by PITC-Pharmaceutical under DTI. The money to be used for the purchase will come from the budget of the DOH in the coming years. That is our proposal for vaccine vaccine procurement,” she added.

Cabotaje said the DOH has been in coordination with suppliers who are keen on selling anti-COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines once it becomes available and passed regulatory standards of the country’s Food and Drug administration.

At the same time, DOH Undersecretary Mario Villaverde said during the hearing that at least 58 provinces and highly urbanized cities had been listed as UHC integration sites for 2021.

The P38.9 billion allocated to the DOH is on top of the P71 billion given to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for the implementation of UHC Law.

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