MANILA - The Department of Health deserves a bigger budget next year under a "competent, inspiring" leader, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Wednesday.
The agency was allotted P242 billion under the National Expenditure Program government submitted to Congress, ranking fourth among departments that will receive the biggest budget.
Hontiveros said she would be "arguing for more and better funding" for the agency but its current leadership under Health Secretary Francisco Duque was a "weight around our necks."
"I’m afraid the department leadership, the Secretary is most responsible for that underspending in the middle of the pandemic," she told ANC's Headstart.
"May mga liderato sa (There are leaders in) DOH who know how to spend that money, who would be spending it better with a more competent inspiring leader at the top."
The Commission on Audit had recently flagged deficiencies in the agency's mismanagement of its P67 billion pandemic funds.
Some P42 billion was transferred to the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) for the purchase of overpriced personal protective equipment, Senator Franklin Drilon earlier said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has summoned former PS-DBM director Undersecretary Christopher Lao to attend its legislative inquiry into the matter later Wednesday.
Lao was "incommunicado" the past few months following his resignation at the DBM, Hontiveros said.
"Sa panahon niya may mga kontratang in-award sa overpriced, China-based companies sa kabila ng there were Filipino manufacturers offering quality medical-grade and cheaper supplies," she said.
(It was during his time that contracts were awarded to overpriced, China-based companies when there were Filipino manufacturers offering quality medical-grade and cheaper supplies.)
It would be a "good idea" also to invite former Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, who resigned earlier this month, to attend the Senate hearing, the senator added.
Government should prioritize its expenditures after it raised the budget of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to P28.1 billion from P19 billion this year, Hontiveros said.
"The Office of the President is asking for an even bigger budget; P28 billion at a time na yung proposed budget for UP System is at P20 billion, kasama na yung sa PGH (Philippine General Hospital), our main COVID hospital," she said.
(At a time when the proposed budget for UP System is at P20 billion, including the PGH, our main COVID hospital.)
"I don’t think it needs a bigger budget. Hirap na hirap na kami sa Kongreso ipasa yan nung isang taon dahil masyadong mabigat ang kamay ng Armed Forces sa foreseen expenditure ng pondong iyon."
(We struggled to pass it the previous year because the Armed Forces' hand on the fund's foreseen expenditure was too strong.)
The fund should be distributed directly to local governments through the Department of the Interior and Local Governments and not through the military, according to the senator.