Solons want to tap Malampaya funds for public healthcare upgrade

Published October 21, 2020, 7:21 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Two congressmen who have survived COVID-19 disease have filed a measure that could infuse as much as P23 billion into the sputtering health sector by way of the Malampaya funds.

1-PACMAN Party-List Rep. Eric Pineda and Manila Teachers Party-List Rep. Virgilio Lacson highlighted House Bill (HB) No.7800 on Wednesday during the online webinar-forum of Samahang Plaridel, of which this reporter was invited.

The bill seeks to amend Presidential Decree No. 910 to enable Congress to allot a portion of the Malampaya funds and other similar Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to improve the state of public healthcare in the Philippines.

“(Malampaya’s capability to) supply (the country with) natural gas will actually end by 2023. So meaning to say we only have effectively two more years that we can utilize this fund. So if we can utilize this immediately, mas maganda po (the better),” said Pineda, who warned of a prolonged pandemic.

“Kami po ni Cong. Lacson ay COVID survivor na po kaming dalawa (Cong. Lacson and I are COVID survivors). So we know exactly how it feels to be infected by the virus. But more importantly, the expense that you will incur from being hospitalized…talagang masakit po, napakamahal po (it’s so expensive, it hurts),” he noted.

Lacson agreed that there’s a race against time to tailor via legislation the use of Malampaya funds toward improving the country’s public health infrastructure, which would in turn benefit indigent Filipinos.

“Cong Pineda is right, it’s about to expire. So meaning the service contract for the exploration of Malampaya, the 25-year contract will end. We have to be prepared. I think we just need the funding to prepare ourselves. We should be focusing on time while we still have time,” Lacson said in mixed Filipino and English.

Lacson, the Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development chairman pegged the available funds from Malampaya to be worth P23 billion, based on its reported annual generated revenue of P1 billion.

“May pera dun eh, may revenues itong Malampaya na P1 billion annually (There is money there, Malaya has revenues of P1 billion annually. For the past years, baka mayroon siyang accumulation (there may be an accumulation). I don’t know the details, I just saw it in the budget,” he said. Lacson also stressed that PD 910 is over 50 years old already.

PPPs like Malampaya are recognized as one of the key strategies to increase infrastructure development under the Duterte Administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda. Malampaya, given its history and track record, proves the immense benefits of such partnerships in funding the nation’s development.

Beyond that, the project’s maximization of indigenous natural gas also shows that the country has enough resources to become a sustainable option for investments and income.

“The Philippines is very rich in natural resources. In fact, we have the biggest supply of natural gas all over the world. We have the Liguasan Marsh in Maguindanao, and we also have a lot of natural gas in Sulu,” noted Pineda, chairman of the Committee on Labor and Employment.

“That’s why projects like Malampaya are very important, while other developments take a back seat because of the pandemic. We need to save our countrymen first and have enough healthcare facilities for the infected. Developing more sources for natural gas can help,” he said.

Pineda added that the availability of Malampaya funds eliminates the need for government to borrow more money for its pandemic mitigation efforts either domestically or internationally.

“Right now, the best way to use these funds is to improve healthcare facilities and support healthcare workers. While there’s no vaccine, we must act immediately.”

Perhaps most telling is the support for the bill given by Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire, who also took part in the webinar-forum.

“With this bill, we can increase our budget and put up more facilities. It can fill critical gaps in the system,” she said.

“There are many inadequacies in our healthcare sector, especially when it comes to facilities. We feel the effects especially in provincial regions that have limited hospitals and testing laboratories,” said Vergeire.

Pineda and Lacson said they’re pushing for the measure’s enactment before the end of the year.