In the past week, we sponsored the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the proposed national budget for 2022. Interpellations on the different agency budgets have since started and are expected to wrap up within the coming weeks. Notably, what we’re debating is the last budget proposed and to be implemented by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. And we’re working hard to ensure that what gets approved will help fast-track the return to normalcy away from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Fundamentally, this is what the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 aims to fund—the desire to jumpstart our reconstruction and recovery, underlined by an optimism that the virus is defeated and that the pandemic is on its way to being conquered. But if the virus mutates again, in its lethal form, the budget we’ve proposed is also ready for that contingency. In short, we are working to ensure that the 2022 budget properly supports our health sector.
For instance, at least P6.282 billion has been set aside for the emergency hiring of human resources for health (or HRH) across the country, which includes vaccinators. These are the medical frontliners—the doctors, midwives, nurses, and other health-related workers—who have tirelessly fought against the virus. Furthermore, appropriations were also included for the upgrading of nurses’ salaries and the retention of currently-hired nurses.
To further support our frontliners to continue fighting against the virus, we also appropriated significant amounts for them to receive proper COVID-19 benefits. This includes the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) for all public and private health care workers involved in the COVID-19 response (P3,000 for low risk, P6,000 for medium risk, and P9,000 for high risk). There shall also be funding to compensate any public or private health worker who contracted or died from COVID-19 in the line of duty (P15,000 for mild or moderate case; P100,000 for severe or critical case; and P1 million if the COVID-19 case results in death).
To further widen our pool of health care workers we’ve also proposed additional funding of certain state universities and colleges (SUCs), including the University of the Philippines, to increase the carrying capacity of their respective schools of medicine. Then for SUCs that are looking to start their own medical schools, a seed fund will be lodged in the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) alongside funds for the Medical Scholarship Program which has a return service component according to the Doktor Para Sa Bayan law.
More investments have also been proposed to enhancing healthcare facilities across the country and augmenting the operations of Department of Health (DOH) hospitals in Metro Manila and in the different regions. The Committee had also proposed increases to the operations budget of the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC), the network of service providers, hospitals, quarantine facilities and medical transportation that was set up for faster, more efficient COVID-19 case referral.
The Epidemiology and Surveillance Program of the Department of Health will also receive a boost in its budget for the different surveillance units across the regions to better track if, where, and by how much the virus continues to spread. Such biosurveillance efforts would be ineffective however if our testing and contact tracing efforts are not equally vigorous. This is why the Senate still allocated funds under the DILG to hire up to 25,000 more contact tracers. We also raised the items for the procurement of FDA authorized test kits and the efficient operations of our network of testing laboratories.
All indications however point to the virus becoming endemic. As such, significant funds are being set aside for the purchase, logistical requirements, delivery and storage of booster shots next year. And this will be done, even as the country has already in its possession up to 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and was recently able to vaccinate up to 1 million people in one day.
These are just among the items that the Senate Committee on Finance has proposed to ensure that the 2022 budget rightly strengthens our healthcare systems and bolster our COVID-19 response.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara