DOH wants P1.2-B reproductive health budget in 2017

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) to keep the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the government's distribution and sale of implants, the health department is set to propose a 2017 budget of around P1.2 billion ($25.25 million)* meant to provide the family planning needs of the poorest Filipinos.

This is a huge jump from the P165-million proposal presented by Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial before lawmakers during their September 6 budget hearing at the House of Representatives.

"Our people, together with [the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organization] and other groups, came up with a contraceptive investment plan, and they calculated the unmet need for family planning," Ubial said in a press conference on Wednesday, September 14.

She added: "They came out with a figure that for the next 4 years – that is 2017 to 2020 – to really reduce unmet need for family planning to zero, we need about P5.2 billion ($109.42 million). That includes the health programs, the trainings, [and] the systems that will be developed."

The P1.2-billion proposal is for 2017, while the succeeding years will require a higher budget as the population increases.

Ubial said that if they cannot source these funds through the General Appropriations Act (GAA), they are also looking at PhilHealth funds, as well as proceeds from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

President Rodrigo Duterte has said he wanted the funds from the state gaming firms to be appropriated solely for health programs.

Ubial noted that investing in reproductive health (RH) needs will result to huge savings, amounting to P132 billion ($2.78 billion).  (READ: Use of modern family planning methods in PH rose in 2015 – report)

"For every peso invested in family planning or reproductive health, we have P10 savings in terms of lives, in terms of illnesses, in terms of unsafe abortions and hospitalization. So it's really an investment worthy of this government providing for," she added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate committee on health and demography, said during the press conference she would give her 100% support for the budget proposal to be approved both at the Senate and the bicameral conference committee.

Referring to Pagcor and PCSO proceeds, the senatot said, "Kaya nagmiyembro din ako, vice chair, sa Senate committee on games and amusement, para rin mabantayan 'yung stream na 'yun for health spending."

(That's why I also asked to become a member, vice chair, of the Senate committee on games and amusement, in order to monitor that stream for health spending.)

Hontiveros pointed out that the estimated P5.2 billion needed for 4 years for RH services is a reasonable amount. (READ: Most contraceptives to run out by 2018 – PopCom)

SC decision

In 2016, the Department of Health (DOH)'s budget suffered a P1-billion ($21.04 million) budget cut meant for the purchase of family planning commodities for the poorest of the poor in the country.

Lawmakers cited the SC's TRO on implants – a contraceptive that can prevent pregnancies for up to 3 years – as one of the reasons for the budget cut.

On Tuesday, September 13, the SC denied the plea of the Office of the Solicitor General to lift the TRO that stopped the health department from "procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive 'Implanon' and 'Implanon NXT.'"

The SC also ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to find out whether certain contraceptive drugs and devices are abortifacients or not.

Ubial on Wednesday said they are still happy about the SC decision "because bad news is better than no news." 

"Because they have been silent about the TRO for more than a year, and then we've been filing our petition for lifting [for] several instances with the help of the Solicitor General. At least now, they have provided us with an answer," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The health secretary said they are still subjecting the decision to legal interpretation. (READ: SONA 2016: Duterte urges full implementation of RH law)

Hontiveros, a known RH advocate, said she is "fully confident" that DOH and FDA will be able to satisfy the SC's legal question on the necessity of the implant as part of the full range of modern family planning supplies for Filipinos.

"On the Supreme Court decision, on the other hand I'm saddened by it, but of course it means just one part, and not the entire reproductive health law, was affected by not lifting the TRO on implants" she said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P47.52

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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