MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health initially proposed a P73.99 billion budget for its continuing response to COVID-19 in 2022, but the Department of Budget and Management slashed this by 73% to just P19.68 billion, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday.
Duque told lawmakers during the House appropriations committee’s hearing on their proposed P242.22-billion budget for 2022 that their initial proposal to the DBM would have included hazard pay, meals, accommodation and transportation allowances, and life insurance for healthcare workers.
But since the DBM only approved a P19.68 billion budget for DOH’s COVID-19 response, there is no funding for these benefits in the National Expenditure Program, he admitted.
He also said the pandemic might last for one to two more years, based on projections made by the World Health Organization and other experts.
Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo (Marikina) asked Duque if DOH’s current budget is too small, given the projection that the pandemic will persist longer, pointing out that the government spent around P11.4 billion a month this year for its response to the pandemic.
Duque tried to give reason as to why the DBM slashed their budget, saying that this might have happened due to the presumption that the country will reach herd immunity soon.
“Ang tingin ko po, we are hoping that once we reach the herd immunity and vaccinate at least 77 million of our people, baka naman po ang sitwasyon ay sadyang mas maging maayos. Kasi nga po mayroon na pong proteksyon,” he said.
(I think, we are hoping that once we reach herd immunity and vaccinate at least 77 million of our people, maybe the situation would improve because a lot of people have protection.)
Still, Duque said that they will submit to the House their original budget proposal for the consideration of lawmakers who have the power to amend the executive’s proposed spending plan.
Rep. Janette Garin (Iloilo), who previously served as health secretary under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, said Duque must find items under their proposed budget that can be realigned to fund the DOH’s COVID-19 response.
“You are the captain of the ship. You have to own up to it. If DBM would not release funds, then tell them the importance. And if there is no funding, why don’t you sacrifice other projects in the department that are not in the priority as of now?” Garin said partly in Filipino.