Bill extending validity of 2019 infra, social services budgets approved

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    THE House of Representatives yesterday unanimously approved on third and final reading the bill extending the validity of the budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlay (CO) of this year’s P3.757 trillion national budget.

    Lawmakers voted 192-0 with no abstention in favor of House Bill No. 5437, which was filed to allow government to use until December 31, 2020 the appropriations allocated for infrastructure projects and social services which have not yet been spent.

    The delay in the enactment of the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) early this year and the election ban on the implementation of infrastructure projects tied government’s hands in disbursing the funds.

    Last November 4, a total of 199 congressmen voted in favor of House Joint Resolution No. 19 which authorized the extension.

    But Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the House committee on appropriations, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda of Antique later on filed House Bill No. 5400 to amend section 65 of the 2019 GAA (Republic Act No. 11260) on the advice of senators, who cited a provision in a ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) on the salary of public nurses.

    The SC decision stated that a mere resolution cannot amend or repeal a prior law which is an act of Congress. It ruled that a Republic Act should also be amended or repealed by a Republic Act.

    The House will still have to withdraw the passage of HJR No. 19 in favor of HBN 5437, a substitute version of the proposed House bill.

    Aside from the budget extension, congressmen also approved a measure institutionalizing “Malasakit Centers” in public hospitals run by the Department of Health (DOH), a pet measure of Sen. Christopher Go who has a counterpart bill in the Senate.

    The substitute bill, which is identical to the Senate version, aims to consolidate the assistance provided by the health and social welfare departments, as well as the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

    Under the substitute bill, all DOH-run hospitals are required to establish Malasakit Centers, which are supposed to be one-stop shops inside hospitals where patients can get medical assistance from different government agencies.

    The proposed “Malasakit Program Act” seeks to complement the objectives of the Universal Healthcare Act.

    Other public hospitals that are not being operated by the DOH can also put up Malasakit Centers for as long as the local government units (LGUs) can fund it and that DOH requirements are met.

    Under this year’s P3.7 trillion national budget, P1 billion was allocated to fund the operations and services of Malasakit Centers, which Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said should be investigated “because it is more of a partisan tool than a medical outlet.”

    During the campaign period for the May elections, President Duterte credited Go, his longtime aide, for coming up with the idea.

    Lagman had that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had to order the DOH to remove Go’s campaign posters which littered the centers.

    The opposition lawmaker said the some of the centers, especially in Albay, are nothing but “mere outlets for referral to the main local offices of the participating agencies where the beneficiaries have to just the same queue in long lines because the representatives in the centers do not have the authority nor discretion to make assessments either for partial or full payment of hospital bill balances.”