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House increases DOH pandemic response budget

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
House increases DOH pandemic response budget
The committee tasked by the House plenary to consider amendments in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) has decided to realign funds for government’s health programs with insufficient budget in the National Expenditure Program submitted by the Department of Budget and Management to Congress.
House of Representatives / Releas

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives has increased the budget of the Department of Health (DOH) for pandemic response programs next year by P29.5 billion.

The committee tasked by the House plenary to consider amendments in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) has decided to realign funds for government’s health programs with insufficient budget in the National Expenditure Program submitted by the Department of Budget and Management to Congress.

With this, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has committed the timely transmission to the Senate of the P5.024-trillion budget bill that he said is a “more responsive and balanced national budget” for 2022.

“We are very proud of this budget and what it will do to help our country recover from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe the House delivered a budget that directly responds to the greatest needs of the Filipino people amid this unprecedented global health crisis,” Velasco said in a statement.

The Marinduque congressman said the printed copy of the House-approved GAB would be transmitted to the Senate on or before Oct. 27 to give senators ample time to examine the government’s spending plan for next year.

Appropriations committee chair Eric Yap revealed that the DOH would get a budget increase of P20 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, P5 billion for medical assistance to indigent patients and P4.5 billion for special risk allowance for private and public health workers.

During budget deliberations, lawmakers questioned the lack of regular funding for procurement of booster COVID-19 shots and medical supplies as well as special risk allowances for health care workers (HCWs) in the proposed P242.2-billion budget of DOH for 2022.

It was found during hearing that the DOH initially proposed about P104 billion for the purchase of booster shots, but the DBM only earmarked P45 billion under unprogrammed appropriations or funds that would depend on government revenue.

There is also no appropriation for the P50 billion that the DOH needs to fund HCW’s special risk allowance, hazard pay and allowances for meals, accommodations and transportation.

“We have appropriated additional budget to (concerned) agencies to further enable them to swiftly, efficiently and effectively address the needs of the Filipino people,” the ACT-CIS and Benguet caretaker congressman revealed.

“Our commitment remains the same: to provide the enabling mechanisms for a responsive and dynamic governance and to strengthen the capabilities of the government in addressing the effects of the pandemic,” he stressed.

Yap further bared that apart from the DOH, other agencies with crucial programs would also get additional funding in the amendments approved by the panel totaling P65.5 billion.

The panel also realigned P10 billion for the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program of the Department of Labor and Employment, which seeks to provide emergency employment for up to 30 days. The program was originally given only P21.04 billion under NEP.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development will also get P11 billion in additional funds for its crisis assistance and livelihood programs, while the Department of Transportation (DOTr) will receive an additional P6 billion for the service contracting program for displaced public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers under the government’s Libreng Sakay program.

The DOTr had requested P10 billion for the continuation of the program, but the DBM rejected the request and did not include it in the department’s proposed P150.76-billion budget for 2022.

The panel also realigned P5.5 billion for acquisition of five C-130 J cargo planes of the Philippine Air Force, P3 billion for the national broadband project of the Department of Information and Communications Technology and P504 million for four state universities and colleges in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

EU support

The European Union, meanwhile, has allocated an additional 800,000 euros (over P47 million) in humanitarian aid to the Philippines, specifically for Filipinos affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The humanitarian aid is expected to benefit some 70,000 people in conflict-affected provinces in Mindanao, the EU said in a statement on Friday.

It will support a consortium of partners on the ground, including Action Against Hunger, CARE International and Oxfam International, in assisting the rollout of vaccination in far-flung areas in southern Philippines.

“The unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases threatens the lives and livelihoods of many in the Philippines, especially those living in remote areas like Mindanao where access to medical care can sometimes be limited,” said EU commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenar?i?.

“This funding from the EU will ensure vulnerable and marginalized people receive vital health support to go through this difficult time,” he added.

According to EU, the funding will be used to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines and supporting local governments and health care authorities in implementing their vaccination campaigns. – Janvic Mateo

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