Sotto admits budget for contraceptives scrapped

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 07 2016 12:18 PM | Updated as of Jan 07 2016 07:16 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Senator Vicente Sotto III on Thursday admitted that the budget meant for the purchase of contraceptives for poor couples was scrapped from the 2016 national budget.

Health Secretary Janette Garin earlier said the P1 billion allocation for contraceptives was deleted from the budget during the bicameral conference.

Garin said she only learned of the budget cut on Monday. She particularly blamed the Senate for the deletion.

Sotto, a staunch opponent of the RH Law, said the budget for contraceptives was indeed deleted, but he said the budget for the rest of the programs under the Reproductive Health (RH) Law remains in the budget of the Department of Health (DOH).

"The budget of the DOH is P123 billion. [The] RH budget is scattered all over that budget total. What was deleted was a mere small portion of their allocation for contraceptives, including condoms and injectables that are considered abortifacients and in fact, covered by the Supreme Court TRO against the purpose of such. Less than P200 million that was cut was transferred by the Committee on Finance to augment the budget of State Universities and Colleges,'' he said.

''Do not be a victim of disinformation. For the record, I am now in favor of the RH Law after we passed it because we made sure it was [cleansed] of abortion, population control and the use of abortifacients."

Sotto provided the following breakdown:

  • DOH total budget: P123.5 billion
  • 2016 budget for Family Health and Responsible Parenthood: P2,275,078,000 (lump sum)
  • Submitted total cut: P195,963,748 in Family Health and Responsible Parenting under the family planning supplies:
  • P15,964,748 - IUD
  • P30 million - male condoms
  • P50 million - Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate
  • P50 million - pills (combined oral contraceptives)
  • P50 million - pills (progestin-only pills)

Foreign and local authorities have long cited the need for improved birth control in the Philippines which has one of Asia's highest birth rates as well as high maternal mortality rates.

The country has a population well over 100 million with about 25 percent living in poverty.

It was only in 2014 that the Supreme Court finally upheld a "reproductive health" law, striking down more than a dozen petitions against it from church-backed groups.

The law requires government health centers to supply free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating sex education in schools.

It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while medical care after an abortion will also be legalized.

Nearly 80 percent of the population is Catholic, an inheritance of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule that ended in the late 1800s.

The Catholic church opposes birth control and abortion and its hold is strong in the Philippines where divorce and abortion are illegal.

Garin said the department would now seek private donors to provide funds for contraceptives.

ORIGINAL PROPOSAL SLASHED BY P1B

Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco told ABS-CBN by phone that the RH budget is still there, except that the original proposal was slashed by P1 billion.

Cojuangco expressed displeasure at the slash, saying RH definitely deserved more money. She also explained that it is common practice during budget deliberations that proposals would be big in anticipation of the haggling prior to final approval.

Cojuangco posted the following tweets concerning the subject: "That is an exaggeration. Original was P3.2 billion. After bicam, it was P2.2 billion. Better than nada."

Budget Secretary Butch Abad said in a text message: "Under the proposed 2016 NEP [National Expenditure Program] we submitted to Congress, the proposed amount for family planning program was P3,137,872,000. This is lodged under the Women and Men's Health Development component of the DOH P/A/P 'Family Health and Responsible Parenting'. In the recently approved 2016 GAA [General Appropriations Act], the amount for the above P/A/P was reduced to Php2,275,078,000. The decrease amounting to Php862,794,000 pertains to the provision for the procurement of the Implanon Implant (contraceptive) in view of the SC decision to temporarily stop the distribution and selling of the said contraceptive. The amount was deducted in the Senate."

Senate Finance Committee chair Loren Legarda explained: "The justification for cutting the allocation for FHRP [Family Health and Responsible Parenting] is that as of June 2015, the DOH [Department of Health] status of funds shows that of the P3.27-billion allocation, only P955 million has been obligated or 29%. For the remaining 6 months, P2.3 billion or 71% has yet to be obligated. Note also that any unused 2015 budget is still available in 2016. In addition, the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings. Full year utilization rate of DOH for 2014 is 83%."

According to Legarda, the cut of P1 billion for the FHRP was a source for the increases in other agencies, including the Department of National Defense (DND), for its air assets upgrading, "which is timely and equally important given the West Philippine Sea issue."

A portion of the P1 billion was also realigned within the DOH to provide for the health facilities and medical assistance to indigent patients, Legarda said.

"The decision to cut the allocation for FHRP was done after assessing its possible impact on the program," she said.

The members of the bicameral panel are, for the House of Representatives: Representatives Isidro Ungab, Thelma Almario, Dax Carlo Cua, JC Rahman Nava, Rolando Andaya, Ronnie Zamora, Pryde Henry Teves, Zenaida Angping, Miro Quimbo, Magi Gunigundo, and Eleandro Madrona; and for the Senate, Legarda, Sotto, Juan Ponce Enrile, Ralph Recto, and Bam Aquino.

SOTTO CAUSED DELETION OF CONTRACEPTIVES BUDGET: SOURCES

Congressional sources told ABS-CBN News that Sotto caused the deletion shortly before the Senate approved its version of the budget.

The Senate approved its version of the budget with just 13 senators in session -- the minimum required for a quorum. Thus, the absence of just one of the 13 would have forced the adjournment of the session and the derailment of the passage of the entire bill.

The senators who voted for the approval of the proposed 2016 national budget include Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Deputy Minority Leader Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, and Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Loren Legarda, Sergio Osmeña III, Grace Poe and Antonio Trillanes IV.

Legarda chairs the finance committee which sponsored the budget in the Senate.

Rep. Isidro T. Ungab (3rd District, Davao City) is the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Previously, Ungab cited there were four substantial changes, restorations and augmentations in House Bill 6132 that were reflected in the bicam report namely: an increase of P1.2 billion in the budget for indigent senior citizens; an increase in the budget of state universities and colleges (SUCs) by P2.7 billion to cover their capital outlays; the veterans' pension totaling P4.7 billion was sustained; and provision of P7 billion to fully fund the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) of 2015 for its first tranche of implementation next year.

The bicameral report provides for a total programmed new appropriations of P2.071 trillion and unprogrammed funds of P67.5 billion.

The Top 10 agencies in terms of budgetary allocations are: Department of Education (DepEd) P411.905 billion; Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) P384.287 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) P124.229 billion; Department of Health (DOH) P123.510 billion; Department of National Defense (DND) P117.521 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) P110.816 billion; Department of Agriculture (DA) P48.447 billion; State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) P47.414 billion; Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) P42.680 billion; and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) P28.492 billion.

The annual national budget is a regular deliverable of Congress.

It is one of the legislative accomplishments of the 16th Congress which boasts of 91 laws enacted broken down as follows: 69 national laws, 17 local laws and 5 joint resolutions. Thirty-seven others have been approved by both houses, of which 26 have been transmitted to the president while 11 are enrolled bills. - with Agence France-Presse