By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Appropriations has approved a bill seeking to establish a Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program for deserving students in the country.
The House panel, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, passed the appropriations provisions of the unnumbered substitute bill, which was presented by Cebu Rep. Peter John Calderon, one of the principal authors of the bill.
“This is a refiled bill, and the Committee has no objection or comment on this,” Ungab said during the panel’s initial deliberation on the proposed Medical Scholarship and Return Service (MSRS) Program Act.
The Ungab specifically passed Section 14 of the bill which provides that the amount necessary to carry out the initial implementation of the proposed Act shall be charged against the current year’s appropriations of the state universities and colleges (SUCs) and the Department of Health (DOH).
“Thereafter, the amount necessary for the continued implementation of the MSRS Program and this Act shall be included and subsumed into the scholarship program of SUCs and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in the annual General Appropriations Act,” it provides.
In his sponsorship speech, Calderon, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, sought the “immediate passage” of the pro-poor measure, which seeks to address the shortage of medical practitioners in the country.
“Recent data shows that the Philippines has a shortage of 15,000 doctors to be able to adequately meet the health needs of the Filipinos each year. According to the DOH (Department of Health) , the country is producing only 2,600 doctors a year, which results in a very low doctor to patient ratio,” he said.
“Also the Philippines has problem with doctors refusing to go to the rural areas. As an example, the DOH Doctor to the Barrios program has around 900 available slots. However, at present, there are only about 215 doctors serving the program deployed everywhere from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi,” Calderon said.
He noted the substitute bill, which was a consolidation of 18 measures, was the same measure approved by the House Committee on Appropriations in the 17th Congress “with only minor changes.”
“This bill seeks to address the problem by providing access to medical education to students aspiring to be doctors, especially those who are financially disadvantaged and to instill in them the importance of medical service to the country, especially in the underserved areas,” Calderon said.
After Calderon’s sponsorship speech, Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, moved for the approval of the bill.
“It is my pleasure to move that we approve this bill and in addition to justification, I think we are all aware of the high cost of medical education and so there is a need for the government to support the program,” he said.
The substitute bill calls for the establishment of the Medical Scholarship and Return Service (MSRS) Program for deserving students in the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) or in private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in regions where there are no SUCs offering medicine.
The scholarship program shall accept at least one scholar from each municipality of the country, it provides.
The student financial assistance for the MSRS Program shall include the following: free tuition and other school fees; allowance for prescribed books, supplies, and equipment; clothing or uniform allowance; allowance for dormitory or boarding house accommodation; transportation allowance; internship fees; medical board review fees; annual medical insurance; and other education-related miscellaneous subsistence or living allowances.
The bill mandates the creation of a joint Congressional Oversight on Medical Scholarship and Return Service System to oversee, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the proposed Act.
Every five years from the effectivity of the proposed Act, the CHED, the DOH, the SUCs, and the PHEIs shall determine the number of scholars to be admitted every school year, it said.
Within 60 days from the effectivity of the proposed Act, the CHED and the DOH shall formulate the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed Act.