Why did the Department of Health (DOH) take a budget cut while the Department of Public Work and Highways (DPWH) had a budget increase in the proposed P5-trillion budget for 2022?
This was the question in Vice President Leni Robredo’s mind as she pointed out the “disconnect” during her radio show on Sunday, September 5, in the government’s budget priorities.
“Magugulat ka kasi (It is surprising because) at a time like this na nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya bakit iyong mga babawasan iyong mga importanteng mga activities or mga programs gaya ng Department of Health, ng RITM (we are in the middle of the pandemic, why are we slashing the budget for important activities or programs of the Department of Health, of RITM)?” she asked.
RITM is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s main coronavirus testing center that faces a P170-million budget cut in the 2022 appropriations.
“If you are going to question, why are we cutting their budget when this is the most important function we need now? I cannot understand. There are a lot of disconnect in the higher ups,” Robredo said in Filipino.
The vice president lamented that the allowances for health care workers were also removed from the DOH’s budget proposal to continue its COVID-19 pandemic response.
The “justification,” Robredo noted, is that the allowances will be included in the Bayanihan 3. But she argued that the Bayanihan 3 is only a “bill” and it has not been passed into law yet. The funding for it is also “not sure yet.”
Out of the P242.22 billion budget that the DOH is requesting for 2022, P73.99 billion will be used to continue its pandemic programs. But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) slashed this by 73 percent to just P19.68 billion due to, as Robredo understands it, the “absorptive capacity” of the department.
The formula for absorptive capacity shows that the DOH is apparently hard pressed in managing its funds optimally as reflected in the Commission on Audit (COA) reports wherein billions of funds were left untouched. The payout of the special risk allowance (SRA) of the health workers was also problematic, as shown by the protest actions launched by health workers to denounce the “undue delay” in such payments that were supposed to have been received last year.
“Ang solusyon diyan hindi bawasan iyong (The solution there is not to reduce the) budget pero maghanap ng ibang pwedeng makatulong mag-implement (but to look for others that can help implement). Kasi kung ang problema ng DOH masyado na siyang (Because if the problem if the DOH is it is too) swamped, hindi na niya magamit iyong pera, eh di hanapan ng paraan kaya nga may IATF eh. Kaya nga may IATF kasi itong yung (it cannot use the money, then look for ways that’s why we have the IATF. That’s why we have the IATF because it’s the) convergence ng lahat ng mga (of all) departments,” Robredo said.
“Pero kung ipa-punish mo ‘yung (But if you are going to punish the) DOH dahil hindi niya niya nagastos iyong (because it did not spend the funds) last year. Kapag hindi (If it’s not a) pandemic maiintindihan natin pero dahil (we are going to understand it but because) pandemic, it doesn’t make sense,” she added.
RITM also faces a budget cut of about P170 million.
Robredo questioned why departments such as the DPWH received an increase in the budget when the Health department is more important during a pandemic.
Although she understands that infrastructure also matters, but right now, it’s more critical for her to control the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Kasi kahit anong pera pa ang pinasok mo sa DPWH, kung magkasakit at mamatay iyong tao, wala din (Because no matter how much money you pour into DPWH, if the people will get sick and die, that’s for nothing),” Robredo said.
“Pero kung ganito kataas iyong kaso tapos iyan ‘yung binibigyan mo ng (But if the cases are this many, then that’s what you are going to give) priority, parang mali (it feels wrong),” she added.