House panel approves DOH budget to combat Covid-19

(UPDATED) The House committee on appropriations on Tuesday, March 10, approved a bill providing a P1.65-billion supplemental fund for the Department of Health (DOH) to help combat the spread of Covid-19, a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The amount, representing the available excess revenue according to the Bureau of Treasury, is more than half of the estimated P3.1 billion sought by the DOH.

In a media interview after the House committee hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III welcomed the P1.6-billion additional budget.

"Okay naman 'yon, karampatan naman' yon dahil mayroon namang P2 billion commitment ang Pagcor--Hopefully it's enough," Duque said.

DOH Undersecretary Roger Tong-an said their requirements are as follows: P2 billion for personal protective equipment, P933 million for the operating expenses and salaries of additional Bureau of Quarantine personnel, and P139 million for 40,000 test kits for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

He said possible sources of funds are Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (P2 billion), DOH savings (P539 million), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (P420 million), and DOH quick response fund (P81 million).

Duque said a complete set of personal protective equipment consists of the head gear, goggles, N95 mask, gloves, gown, apron and shoe cover.

A complete set would cost P1,500. For 5,000 health care workers who would be working in eight-hour shifts over the next 90 days, the funding requirement amounts to P2.025 billion.

“The protection has to be 24/7. It cannot just be eight hours. It has to be continuous,” Duque said.

The first delivery is scheduled on April 3, 2020. Subsequent deliveries will be made every 15 days until May 3, 2020. Until then, Duque assured the DOH has enough protective equipment.

The committee on appropriations was acting on bills submitted by Quezon 4th District Representative Angelina Tan, chairperson of the House committee on health, and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.

Tan filed House Bill No. 6166 seeking to appropriate the sum of P2 billion and P40 million as supplemental appropriations for 2020.

Salceda filed a similar bill seeking P2.06 billion supplementary budget for the procurement of surgical masks and protective personal equipment.

Before the committee approved the allocation, committee chairman and ACT-CIS Party-list Representative Eric Yap advised the Department of Health (DOH) to “move with caution” in the procurement of protective equipment and test kits.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) officials also assured that there are available funds under the 2020 national budget to cover the current requirements of the DOH.

These are the P13-billion contingent fund that would be released upon approval by the President, the P7.5 billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) fund that primarily addresses calamities, and the P100-million DOH quick response fund.

The test kits are used to test patients during the first week of the acute stage of the disease, not during the incubation period, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) representatives said. (MVI and Jove Moya/SunStar Philippines)