MANILA - Opposition senators on Wednesday questioned why the Department of Health's proposed 2021 budget is P21 billion less than the current year's funding as the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues.
The DOH got a total of P153.1 billion in 2020 after several funds were realigned to the agency due to the global pandemic, but under the proposed 2021 spending plan, the department at the helm of the COVID-19 crisis will receive only P131.721 billion.
If the budget of the National Health Insurance will be added, the DOH is set to get P203.1 billion next year.
"We should be able to provide confidence to the public that we can address the pandemic... and yet for next year we are only allocating P131B [for DOH]? Isn't there something wrong with this?" Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said during the first day of budget hearings in the Senate.
"We need to improve our testing, our contact tracing... Unless we restore the confidence of the public, we will find difficulty in recovering," he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked economic managers if the executive branch has been skimping on health expenses in favor of the construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
"Tila anemic naman 'yung budget natin para sa kalusugan," Hontiveros said, noting that the DOH got the 5th largest chunk of the P4.5 trillion 2021 budget.
(It seems our funding for health is anemic.)
The 4 agencies that is set to receive more funds than the DOH are as follows:
- Department of Education (P754.4 billion)
- Department of Public Works and Highways (P667.3 billion)
- Department of the Interior and Local Government (P246.1 billion)
- Department of National Defense (P209.1 billion)
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said that the DOH funding this year was higher because several equipment had to be procured for COVID-19 testing.
"We invested so much on the capital investments like testing machines that why we have a huge expenditure for this year," Avisado said.
"Next year, what will be covered are consumables like test kits," he said.
If the realignments for COVID-19 projects were not taken into consideration, the health department's 2021 budget actually increased by 26.8 percent compared to its original P104.49 billion allocation this year, he said.
"The government aims to boost the health sector. However, may we also emphasize that we cannot rely on the budget of DOH alone to address the impact of COVID-19," he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged economic managers to "appeal" to President Rodrigo Duterte to "reboot" the government's COVID-19 counter measures.
"We are just rearranging our chairs in the Titanic until the vaccine comes," Pangilinan said.
"We have to confront our management... How can we entice investors to come in when we do not address this disease?" he said.
The Philippines has the highest COVID-19 incidence in Southeast Asia following a surge last month, when quarantine restrictions were relaxed to revive the crippled economy.
The fiscal deficit constrains the ability of the national government to allocate more funds to various agencies, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said.
"The main limitation we have here is the fiscal deficit... If we exceed that, we are going to prejudice our ability to raise funds in the future," he said.
The Philippines' deficit in the first half of 2020 was at P700.6 billion, 6 times higher than the deficit in 2019, he said.
"If the debt burden is too high, it will hamper our ability to grow our economy," the finance chief said.
"We are keeping an eye in the future that's why we are very careful in the debt we incur so that we do not burden our youth," he said.