MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday confirmed that the Department of Budget Management (DBM) has slashed the original proposal of P73.9 billion in COVID-19 response funds for next year to just P19.6 billion, a bulk of which were supposedly meant for medical frontliners' allowances.
Facing the House Appropriations Committee to justify the agency's proposed P242.22 billion budget in 2022, Duque said the original amount contained provisions for the special risk allowances (SRA), hazard duty pay, meals accommodation and transportation allowance, and life insurance worth P50.41 billion for health care workers.
It also included P9.9 billion worth of support to the Department of Health's (DOH) retained hospitals, as well as allocations for the hiring of vaccinators (P6.6 billion) and of disease surveillance officers (P1.2 billion), the acquisition of oxygen needs (P4.4 billion), and other expenses (P1.5 billion).
When Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo asked if the slash was the reason why there is no SRA funding in the 2022 budget, Duque answered in the affirmative.
"Tama po kayo. 'Yung P311 million na naibaba na, 'yun nung nakaraang linggo para sa 20,000 health workers... May binigay kami sa DBM na P13.2 billion request for meals accommodation and transportation benefits to healthcare workers," the health chief said.
(You are right. The P311 million that we distributed last week was for some 20,000 frontliners. We also requested another P13.2 billion for their meals and transportation benefits.)
"[That's] all for this year. Next year, wala po," he said.
(That's all for this year. But next year there is no allocation for those.)
On Wednesday, Duque revealed that there were no funds for the SRA in the 2022 budget, since it was lodged under the proposed Bayanihan 3 bill.
The Bayanihan 3 bill has been approved by the House but remains pending in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Duque expects that the country's pandemic situation will be better next year once herd immunity against COVID-19 is achieved.
"Tingin ko po... we are hoping, once we reach herd immunity and vaccinate 77 million people, baka naman po ang sitwasyon sadyang maging mas maayos kasi may proteksyon na," he said.
(I think that once we reach herd immunity and vaccinate 77 million people, our pandemic situation will be better.)
Quimbo pointed out that the approved COVID-19 response budget at P19.6 billion is too small, noting that as of June 30 this year, government has spent about P160 billion since the pandemic started.
Duque said they are eyeing the submission of amendments to their budget to fund other items cut from the COVID-19 response proposed budget.
Health workers have launched protests since last week to demand the release of their long delayed benefits and hazard pay as they battle COVID-19 in the frontlines.
The DOH is under fire for allegedly mishandling some P67 billion of its pandemic funds, of which P11 billion were unobligated even as health workers have complained about their benefits.
--- RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News