MANILA - Two senators on Tuesday pushed to retain funding for contact tracers in the 2021 budget, after confirming that the executive department did not allocate a sum for contact tracing next year.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier gave the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) P5 billion to hire and train some 50,000 contact tracers, but the allocation was not included in the 2021 budget, Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara said in plenary.
"Hindi naman siguro (It may not be) full abandonment but in a sense, it is scaling back," Angara said when asked about the program.
"They are not abandoning it but they will continue to supervise the local government units who are doing contact tracing on their own," he said.
But Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said local governments may not have sufficient funds for contact tracing after a series of typhoons damaged billions-worth of infrastructure in different parts of the country.
"I don't know about LGUs hiring contact tracers dahil konti na lang din ang pera ng LGUs," said Recto, whose home province Batangas was heavily damaged by the eruption of the Taal volcano in January.
(I don't know about LGUs hiring contact tracers because their funds are also depleted.)
"Walang pondo din ang LGU for that. Maybe just the cities in Metro Manila," he said.
(The LGUs may no longer have funds for that.)
Opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan urged the chamber to restore the P5-billion funding for the national government's contact tracing program, saying the "intervention will be the game changer."
"The virus is not going away next year... contact tracing is a continuing necessity," he said.
"Kung wala nang pagkukunan ng pondo, baka puwedeng kunin mula sa budget ng anti-insurgency," he said, referring to the P19-billion funding to develop villages "cleared" of communist rebels.
(If we cannot find sources of funding, maybe we can get it from the anti-insurgency budget.)
Under the current contact tracing program, the government would pay each of the 50,000 contact tracers about P19,000 monthly, for a contract period of 4 months.
As of mid-November, the government has hired 46,338 of the 50,000 contact tracers needed for the program.
The Philippines remains one of the hot beds of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, with 410,718 cases as of Tuesday.