Senate seeks to restore DOH budget with DPWH, DILG 'insertions'

MANILA, Philippines – Senators are eyeing a portion of the controversial P75 billion in the proposed 2019 Department of Public Works and Highways budget to restore the roughly P24.4 billion needed this year for the health facilities and human resources programs of the Department of Health (DOH).

This was the proposal made by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday, January 15, to which, he said, Senators Loren Legarda and JV Ejerctio agreed as Senate finance and health committee chairs, respectively.

Apart from the P75 billion "insertion" in the DPWH’s proposed 2019 budget, Drilon said the funds needed for the DOH can also be sourced from the P27.7 billion added to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) budget without the knowledge of its head, Secretary Eduardo Año.

During budget deliberations at the Senate on Tuesday, Drilon said that a quick look at the budget indicates "there is more than sufficient fiscal space available in order to adequately support the Department of Health."

He was referring to the P75 billion inserted into the public works department budget and the P27.7 billion inserted into the local government department budget. Referring to the two departments' secretaries who spoke on the record, Drilon said, “Hindi po nila alam kung para saan ‘to (We do not know what this is for).”

Drilon made the proposal after he once again questioned the big decrease in funds for the DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), which saw its funds clipped from P30.26 billion in 2018 to P50 million in its proposed 2019 budget. (READ: Restore health department's P30B or budget won't pass, Drilon tells DBM)

For the DOH’s HFEP program, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier sought some P16.8 billion to complete over 1,000 nearly-completed health facilities nationwide in its proposed 2019 budget. 

Ejercito, who defended the DOH’s budget, said the lack of funds for health facilities would affect access to quality health care and affect the implementation of proposed Universal Health Care law.

Responding to this, Drilon hit the budget department for its supposed arbitrary allocation of funds.

“The DILG secretary was surprised P27.7 billion was added to his budget without his knowledge. That’s the same circumstance and process in the DPWH budget. And yet here we are in the Department of Health, P30 billion was being slashed on the public heath sector…. I really cannot understand what budgeting process is being followed,” he said.

DOH BUDGET. Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, seeks clarification from Health Secretary Francisco Duque during the resumption of the plenary deliberations on the proposed 2019 budget. Photo by Albert Calvelo/Senate PRIB

DOH BUDGET. Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, seeks clarification from Health Secretary Francisco Duque during the resumption of the plenary deliberations on the proposed 2019 budget.

Photo by Albert Calvelo/Senate PRIB

If the budget remained slashed, Ejercito said the nearly-complete facilities may become white elephants. “We have the infrastructure but it cannot be operational due to lack of equipment,” he said.

Meanwhile, the DOH likewise said some P7.4 billion was needed for its Health Human Resources Deployment in 2019.

This, after the budget department had earlier slashed the proposed HRRD budget for 2019 to just P1.2 billion, from P6.9 billion in 2018. The program takes care of deploying health workers to rural areas and poor communities. 

Ejercito said the proposed addition of P7.4 billion should cover about 12,841 health workers needed as the House of Representatives earlier restored some P3 billion to the program.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) also already agreed to restore P7.8 billion of the funds needed for the program. (READ: Health workers to keep jobs under proposed DOH budget – Duque)

The chamber is eyeing to pass the proposed 2019 budget on Monday, January 21. A bicameral conference committee would be convened after to thresh out differences between the House and Senate versions. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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