Senate willing to give DOH 'more ammunition' vs COVID-19 under 2021 budget: Angara

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 23 2020 07:40 PM

MANILA - Senate Finance Committee chair Sonny Angara on Thursday said the Senate is willing to give the Department of Health (DOH) "more ammunition" against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) under the 2021 budget despite the agency's failure to spend its entire fund allocation in previous years.

While the DOH did not do a "great job" in using its budget to hire doctors and procure medical equipment before the spread of COVID-19 in the country, the agency needs to be given more resources to combat the global pandemic, Angara said in an online press conference.

"Has the DOH been doing a great job in spending the money? No, it hasn't... Congress gives them the authority... and they are not able to spend the money in that given time," he said.

"A lot of the money is carried over from year to year [but] I think that we should be giving more resources towards this [pandemic]. That is something that we will be looking at in the 2021 budget, in terms of thinking strategically and prioritizing," he said.

"Senators are always willing to help... We will give you more ammunition going forward.. But we also need the implementor of the law to spend the money and fill up all [vacancies]," he said, noting the the DOH only began the mass hiring of doctors and nurses this year, even when there have been sufficient funds since 2018.

The DOH has a P176-billion budget this year, P7 billion higher than its funding in 2019, according to data from its official website.

Angara told ABS-CBN News that he has yet to decide by how much the DOH budget could be increased as Congress has yet to receive the 2021 budget proposal from the executive department.

Senate hearings on the national budget usually begin in the third quarter of the year. 

But additional funding will be needed to "spend more on personal protective equipment" and to boost efforts in "capacitating more hospitals with their infectious disease capacity," he said.

As of April 23, the Philippines remains to have one of the highest COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia with 6,981 confirmed COVID-19 carriers. Of these coronavirus patients, about 750 are doctors and health workers.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier told Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to "work even harder to set aside any doubts" in the Health agency after at least 14 senators called for his resignation over his alleged "failure in leadership" during the coronavirus crisis.

Duque said he would continue to serve with his "best" as the Philippines battles the global pandemic, and would respond to criticisms against his leadership "in due time."