Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Monday the Department of Health (DOH) should have a P48.7-billion increase in its proposed budget for next year to make sure that the government can win the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and help the country finally recover from the health emergency crisis.

RISAA - Hontiveros seeks ‘pandemic budget’ hike of P48.7 B for DOH
Sen. Risa Hontiveros(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“If we want to win against COVID-19 and finally recover as a country, our national budget next year must be a pandemic budget, no ifs and buts,” Hontiveros said.

The senator said a P48.7-billion increase in the DOH’s purse will put the health sector in the top three budget allocations for 2021.

Hontiveros said the current budget allocation for DOH is insufficient to properly sustain the country’s pandemic response alongside regular health operations.

An increase, she said, will improve healthcare services nationwide, especially for critical health programs under the DOH.

“Sa nilaki-laki ng P4.5-trillion na proposed budget ng bansa sa 2021, ni wala man lang sa top-3 na mga ahensya na may pinakamalaking pondo ang DOH (With so much money under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, DOH is not even part of the top 3 agencies that were given a bigger funding),” Hontiveros said.

“Parang hindi tayo nasa top 20 na bansa na may pinakamadaming kaso ng COVID-19 sa buong mundo. Ano ito, isasawalang-bahala na lang natin ang mga nagkakasakit at namamatay na Pilipino? (It doesn’t seem like our country is the top 20 among countries that have the highest number of cases of COVID-19 in the world. Does this mean that we’ll just ignore Filipinos who are getting sick and dying?),” she asked.

She said P22-billion of her proposal aims to put additional funding for the National and Subnational Laboratories which only received P289-million despite the DOH’s request of P1.3-billion, and for the Local Health Systems Development and Assistance which only received P353-million of its requested P1.7-billion.

“Our priorities continue to be questionable. The laboratories are crucial to our test-trace-treat pandemic response, but we only allocated 22% of what they need to be fully operational,” she said.

“The strengthened barangay and community-based health programs are our ‘missing links’ in battling COVID-19, but we’ve weakened our budget disproportionately for this as well,” she added.

She said the DOH needs funding for its programs for the prevention and control of communicable diseases which is crucial to “prevent further uncontrollable outbreaks from worsening the country’s health situation.”

The DOH’s budget for human resources for health deployment also needs augmentation to address the issue of lack of health workers responding to the fast rise in COVID-19 cases.

“This will not only allow the hiring of more health workers, but also ensure that they will receive more meaningful salaries,” she said.

Hontiveros said the DOH still has to respond to other health issues such as tuberculosis, cancer, and other non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

“There are other emerging health emergencies now, such as the rise in cases of measles, malnutrition, mental health issues, and even teenage pregnancies, which we also have to deal with seriously,” she added.

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