MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday rejected the Department of Health's (DOH) plan to spend P11.7 billion to hire 130,000 coronavirus contact tracers, saying the agency could simply tap local government workers "at no additional cost."
The fund should instead be used to procure medicine and medical equipment to boost efforts in treating those afflicted with the disease, and supporting the medical workers who tend to them, Sotto said in a statement.
"It will be wiser and more practical to divert the P11.7 billion for the treatment of patients. We need funds to treat our sick kababayans," he said.
"What I am suggesting is for the DOH to be more prudent on how the country's funds are being used," he said, citing the example of Baguio City, which mounted a successful contact tracing program on its own.
The Senate President also cautioned against the mass hiring of contact tracers as the job requires experience.
"You cannot just deploy anyone to do the job. Contact tracing can only be effective if you use people who are trained in investigation," Sotto said.
"If the DOH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless. The people they will hire will just ask black and white questions and get answers that will not yield the needed information to help the government track down people who might have contaminated the virus," he said.
Hiring "neophyte" contact tracers will only "delay the process," he said.
While Congress has the power to craft and pass the budget, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act allows the President to realign funds for coronavirus-related programs until June 24, 2020.
"The decision is still with the President," Sotto said.
Four months since the Philippines registered its first COVID-19 case, the government has yet to reach the ideal ratio of 1 contact tracer for every 800 individuals.
As of May 27, the Philippines only has 38,000 contact tracers, far from the 126,000 benchmark set by the World Health Organization for the country.
On Sunday, the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines breached the 18,000-mark, with 862 new confirmed cases. Recoveries now total 3,909, and deaths 957.