By Ben Rosario
After prioritizing the anti-drug abuse intelligence operations (Oplan Tokhang) over disease surveillance, government merely washed its hands for this grave error and still has no concrete plans to end the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas said the government’s unpreparedness in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak may be traced to its mistaken prioritization of programs under the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Brosas aired these observations as she assailed the passage yesterday morning of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act of 2020 that authorizes President Duterte to “reprogram, reallocate and realign” certain items of the current national budget in response to the COVID-19 national health emergency.
Brosas recalled that instead of fully supporting the Department of Health program for epidemiology and disease surveillance, the government slashed its proposed P263 billion budget by over 50 percent, leaving it with only P115.5 billion.
She noted that huge budgetary allocations in the 2020 GAA went to the anti-drug surveillance operations under the OplanTokhang program that has been criticized for the thousands of deaths of drug suspects.
Also provided big-ticket budget allocations were infrastructure projects in the administration’s Build- Build- Build that Brosas decired as being “graft prone.”
“Ngayon, tila naghuhugas-kamay ang gobyerno sa maling prayoridad sa badyet sa pamamagitan ng pagsesentro ng bilyun-bilyong pondo sa kamay ng Pangulo,” she pointed out. (“Now, the government seems to be washing its hands on the wrong budget priorities as billions of funds were allocated to the discretion of the President and his Cabinet.”)
Brosas decried the budget cuts on DOH’s disease surveillance program as “gravely wrong.”
“We were worried that this hefty budget cut will constrain the health department’s capability to track and effectively repel the coronavirus outbreak, especially with the influx of tourists in various entry points in the country,” warned Brosas in a press statement issued early this year.
The proposed disease surveillance budget would have allowed the DOH to better prepare for the COVID-19 epidemic.
Brosas aired her strong misgivings over the alleged failure of supporters of the newly enacted national health emergency law to fully explain the mechanisms for disbursement of the huge spending leeway granted to President Duterte and the executive branch.