Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Tuesday called on the government not to abandon its contact tracing efforts while the country waits for a vaccine against COVID-19.
No funds were allocated for the contact tracing program under the P4.506-trillion 2021 government spending plan, said Senator Juan Edgardo Angara during the plenary debates on the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) P244-billion proposed budget.
“Unlike what we put in Bayanihan 2, there is no similar item [in the 2021 budget]. There is none, your honor, yes,” Angara told Recto.
The DILG was given a P5-billion fund under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act to hire and train 50,000 contact tracers and augment the personnel employed by the government to track down close contacts of COVID-19 patients. It said it so far hired 46,338.
For their 2021 budget, however, Angara said the DILG did not request for continued appropriation for the program.
Speaking for DILG Secretary Eduardo Año who was in the Senate plenary, Angara said the agency does not intend to totally abandon it and will continue to supervise the contact tracing activities of the local government units (LGUs), the police, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.
He also said that the DILG hopes that the additional contact tracers it hired under the Bayanihan 2 would be absorbed by LGUs so they can continue to do their work.
But Recto doubted that LGUs will still have funds to pay for the services of the contact tracers, saying that they have already spent a significant amount for their constituents during the pandemic, and the calamities that hit their areas this year.
“Let’s say, the province of Batangas, kasi tinamaan din ng Taal Volcano ‘yan (which was affected by eruption of the Taal Volcano), so their local government revenues next year will be less tha this year, including local revenues because of the pandemic. Babagsak ang revenues (Their revenues will decline) similar to the national government,” he pointed out.
“Kung walang budget (If there is no budget) for contact tracing, it would appear to me that we are abandong it. Walang pondo rin ang LGU (LGUs also do not have the funds) for that,” Recto said.
Recto further said: “My worry is that if we abandon [it] — because of the P4.5 trillion budget for next year, there is no amount of money for contact tracing — I don’t know if that’s wise if we abandon contact tracing immediately.”
“Mabuti na ‘yong naninigurado tayo at marami namang walang trabaho ngayon, eh ‘di mabuti nagbibigay din naman tayo ng trabaho (It’s better that we are proactive and since many lost their jobs, it’s good that we are providing jobs for them). And with the mission of ensuring, habang wala pa ‘yong (while we are waiting for the) vaccine, that we continue what we are doing,” he added.
Angara agreed with Recto’s view and said he would ask the DILG to submit an estimate on how many LGUs to absorb the 50,000 contact tracers hired under Bayanihan 2.
There are over 257,000 contact tracers across the country to date, the DILG said in its update to senators. Around 55 percent of LGUs in the country were capacitated to conduct contact tracing.
Contact tracing is part of the T3 or “Test, Trace, Treat” approach being followed by the national government to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.