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House OKs P1.65 billion supplemental budget vs COVID

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
House OKs P1.65 billion supplemental budget vs COVID
The panel now chaired by ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap passed two bills seeking additional funds for the Department of Health for this year for implementing measures, including procurement of necessary equipment like surgical masks for health workers and persons under investigation
Michael Varcas / File

MANILA, Philippines — The House appropriations committee yesterday approved a P1.65-billion supplemental budget for funding government’s effort to address the continuing threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The panel now chaired by ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap passed two bills seeking additional funds for the Department of Health for this year for implementing measures, including procurement of necessary equipment like surgical masks for health workers and persons under investigation (PUIs).

Proponents of the measure – health committee chair Angelina Tan and ways and means committee chairman Joey Salceda – had sought at least P2 billion in additional funds.

In her House Bill 6166, Tan explained that the fund is “needed to buy additional surgical masks and personal protective equipment (PPEs) over the next three months.”

Salceda, for his part, proposed an allocation of P2.025 billion for the purchase of PPEs for health care workers, P10.395 million for surgical masks for both PUIs and health workers and P4.5 million for repatriation of 40 workers from Wuhan.

But deputy treasurer Sharon Almanza of the Bureau of Treasury told lawmakers that only P1.654 billion is presently available as “excess income” to be collected from government-owned companies and corporations.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier asked for a budget of P2.35 billion for the procurement of N95 masks, gowns, gloves and other PPEs for about 5,000 health workers for 90 days.

But during the hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they would need a total of P3.1 billion for the purchase of test kits and for paying the salaries of additional personnel on the frontlines battling the viral disease.

Yap also explained that the House and Senate only have until today – last session day of Congress before the Lenten break – to pass the supplemental budget if the President issues a certificate of urgency.

“Congress will be having a break in a few days and therefore it is important that this bill be finalized today because the remaining day left for us is tomorrow,” explained panel vice chairman Quirino Rep. Junie Cua.

But representatives from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) revealed during the hearing that the executive branch does not see any need for the issuance of such certificate.

When sought for comment, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano revealed that they could hold special sessions during the Lenten break, if needed, to pass the supplemental budget.

Yap explained that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) has committed P2 billion in funds for DOH’s measures on COVID-19, while the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) has also pledged an additional P420 million.

He said the Pagcor and PCSO funds could go directly to the DOH without the need to pass through the process of supplemental budget in Congress.

While there is a contingency fund of P13 billion under the 2020 national budget, Yap stressed that such budget is only a “last resort” as it is being set aside for national emergencies in the next three quarters of this year.

“Under that circumstance it seems that the most expedient thing to do is make do with (this amount) and find out from the DBM or maybe from DOH whether there are other sources of funds to augment the requirement of this bill,” Cua added.

The House panel’s approval of the supplemental budget came after the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country had risen to 33.

Saying the supplemental budget approved by the House appropriations panel was too small, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go said he personally spoke with Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo to get her commitment for an  additional funding of P2 billion. Go said P420 million from PCSO will also be allocated “based on a proclamation to be issued by the President.”

“There is also around P539 million in DOH savings and P81 million from the DOH Quick Response Fund that can be utilized. Adding all these together, we have a total of roughly P4.6 billion to help DOH and concerned agencies respond to the needs of our people amid the COVID-19 situation,” he said.

He added the Contingency Fund and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund may be used as “standby source” if necessary. – With Helen Flores, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero

SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET

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