Binay: NTF-ELCAC's P28-B budget shows gov't has misplaced priorities

Published August 24, 2021, 4:50 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senator Nancy BInay on Tuesday criticized the Duterte government’s plan to increase the budget by P11-billion of its anti-insurgency task force while slashing the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s (RITM) budget by P170-million under the proposed P5.0240-trillion budget for 2022.

Binay noted that the budget for the country’s primary infectious disease research and laboratory facility, even in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic remains wanting. The senator said this would stunt the country’s testing capacity, and effectively cripples its primary mandate of testing.

“What’s happening? Ang kalaban natin ay Covid. Mas importante ba ang ELCAC kaysa RITM (Our enemy here is COVID. Is the NTF-ELCAC more important than the RITM)? It does not make sense. Government seems to be removed from the realities on the ground,” Binay said.

Under the proposed budget for next year, RITM’s budget would be down from P393-million in 2021 to P223-million for 2022.

On the other hand, Malacanang wanted P11.66-billion more than the P16.4-billion budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which it received in 2021.

Binay reiterated the RITM is a critical backend support line of the Department of Health (DOH) in preventing infectious and communicable diseases, and therefore should be given high priority, and its budget expanded and increased.

“At a time when we need a reliable and stable lead center in our fight against the pandemic, DBM chooses to cut back RITM’s budget. Year-in-year-out, binabawasan lagi (they are reducing it),” she lamented.

“Di ba ang dapat gawin ay ang palakasin pa lalo ang mga (Aren’t we supposed to strengthen our) public health service institutions, hindi pahinain (not weaken them),” the lady senator pointed out.

The senator said the disparity among government agencies’ budget that are critical for the COVID-19 response merely highlights Malacañang’s misplaced priorities especially during a global health crisis.

“As RITM is already struggling in building their manpower and lab resources, babawasan pa ang budget nila. Yung masaklap is that NTF-ELCAC’s budget is inflated to billions, while depriving RITM–a legitimate government institution–of funds necessary to provide critical laboratory services in time of a pandemic. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” the senator pointed out.

“Paano tayo makakapag-level up kung laging iniipit ang kakarampot na budget para sa health, testing at Covid response, pero may bilyones na budget sa red-tagging (How can we level up in our COVID-19 response if we are always scrimping the budget for health, testing and COVID response. Yet we have billions of budget for red-tagging),” she added.

Binay said she will join other senators that would block the approval of the proposed budget of the NTF-ELCAC and will ask colleagues in the Senate to increase rather the budget of government health research initiatives, disease surveillance, genomic testings, and national public hospitals.

“Given the limited fiscal sources, it is morally unacceptable and wrong to prioritize P28-billion on a misplaced agenda over a crucial public health agenda that has a direct impact on the health of 100 million Filipinos… Timing of testing is crucial,” she said.

“Let’s equip, retool and modernize RITM. Give them the latitude to hire more scientists. RITM needs the necessary funding support—especially now that we’re racing against time and finding ways in tapping resources judiciously in fighting both known and unknown diseases,” she reiterated.