House OKs on 2nd reading bill institutionalizing Malasakit Centers

MANILA, Philippines – The bill that would mandate the government to establish and give annual funds to Malasakit Centers in public hospitals nationwide is one step away from passing in the House of Representatives. 

On Wednesday, November 13, lawmakers approved on 2nd reading the substitute bill to House Bill (HB) No. 5477, which would formally include a Malasakit program under the programs of the Department of Health (DOH) to "complement" the universal health care program.

This means the Malasakit Center bill will only need to go through a 3rd and final reading for it to hurdle the House. The Senate already passed it on Monday, November 11. 

The passage of the Malasakit Center bill has been swift so far. House committee on health chairperson Angelina Tan sponsored the original version of HB 5477 for 2nd reading approval at around 4:30 pm. The plenary then approved it around 6:45 pm. 

But Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, who raised concerns the Malasakit Centers were being used as a “partisan tool,” tried to stop the bill’s passage on 2nd reading. (READ: [EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Bantay-salakay ng Malasakit Center?)

It was Deputy Majority Leader Juan Miguel Arroyo who moved to replace HB 5477 with its substitute bill after no lawmaker introduced amendments to the measure during the plenary session. 

Lagman then spoke up and asked if legislators could be given more time to read the new version of the bill. 

“Mister Speaker, we have not really read thoroughly the substituted bill. Can we be given time to go over the same and to compare the said substitute...?” Lagman began.

He did not finish his last sentence, however, as Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu immediately suspended the session.

When session was resumed a few minutes later, Deputy Majority Leader Xavier Jesus Romualdo quickly moved to vote on the Malasakit Center bill on 2nd reading. Lagman tried to protest, but was ignored. 

After the bill was approved, Abu suspended the session for the day.

If passed into law, the measure would require all DOH-run public hospitals to put up Malasakit Centers, which would serve as a one-stop shop so indigent patients would be able to access medical and financial aid from the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and Office of the President in one place.

Lagman already raised a red flag over the measure when it was still being tackled by the committee on health, leading him to get in a word war with Senator Bong Go, who considers the Malasakit Center his pet project. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 campaign period, Malasakit Centers displayed large posters bearing the face of Go, who was present whenever a new center was opened in the country. 

The Commission on Elections later ordered the DOH to take down these posters after citizens complained that government funds were being used to promote Go's senatorial candidacy. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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