The Department of Health (DOH) is asking for at least a P76 billion budget to cover COVID-19 benefits and allowances of health workers for 2023 as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) justifies its budget cuts for some of the agency’s programs for next year.
During the lower house’s Committee on Health hearing on Wednesday (September 7), DOH Officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed to lawmakers to bring back the funds for health workers' benefits, cancer assistance, and disease surveillance after the DBM did not approve their P76 billion initial budget proposal.
"Primarily, what we are appealing to our Committee on Health and members of the House of Representatives, would be our insufficient budget that was provided for our health care workers’ benefits until the end of 2023. Ito po ang pinakamalaki na hindi naibigay sa atin (This is the biggest fund slashed)," Vergeire said.
Under the 2023 proposed national budget, only P20 billion has been set aside for the emergency benefits and allowances of health workers, according to Vergeire.
Of the P20-billion budget, P19 billion will go to the health workers’ Health Emergency Allowance (HEA) while the remaining P1 billion will go to their COVID-19 death and sickness compensation package.
However, this will not meet the needs of the 850,000 health workers for the entire 2023.
According to Health Undersecretary Kenneth Ronquillo, the P20 billion would cover only six months of the benefits health workers were entitled to under Republic Act No. 11712 or the Act granting mandatory benefits and allowances to public and private healthcare workers during the pandemic.
“This funding is inadequate as we will be needing a total of P76 billion requirement for the entire year,” Ronquillo said.
“Likewise, an additional P65 billion is unfunded in the 2023 [National Expenditure Program] for the payment of arrears for 2021 to 2022,” he added.
Meanwhile, the DBM on Wednesday explained that the budget cuts on DOH’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Program, Health Regulatory Program, Public Health Program, and Health Emergency Management Program was because of the government’s “tight fiscal position.”
“Allow us to note that the national government is in a tight fiscal position. Thus, the DBM recognizes the need to carefully prioritize programs and projects,” the agency said.
This is in response to Makabayan bloc’s Rep. France Castro saying that the budget cuts for the health department are “alarming” while the country is still battling the pandemic.
Castro of ACT Teachers Party-list noted the funding decrease for the following programs:
Epidemiology and Surveillance Program: decreased by P115 million
DOH’s Public Health Program, including the COVID-19 Laboratory Network Commodities: decreased by P7.92 billion
COVID-19 Human Resources for Health Emergency Hiring: decreased by P4.33 billion
Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases: decreased by P4.17 billion.
The DBM and DOH have yet to release health workers’ COVID-19 benefits and Health Emergency Allowance (HEA) for 2022.
Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. She advocates for animal welfare and press freedom. Follow her on Twitter @polarubyo for regular news and cat postings. The views expressed are her own.
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