House defers okay of 2021 DOH budget

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    THE House committee on appropriations has deferred the deliberations on the Department of Health’s (DOH) P203 billion proposed budget for 2021 after an administration lawmaker questioned why the state of public health system remains the same despite the annual infusion of funds by Congress.

    The panel adopted the motion of Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor to suspend the deliberations on the DOHbudget, who complained about the lack of significant improvement in public hospitals, especially now that the country is battling the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    “We can just let this go but this happens every year,” Defensor told the panel late Monday afternoon after health officials led by Secretary Francisco Duque III briefed lawmakers on the department’s proposed budget.

    Defensor noted that the funds allocated to barangay health stations (BHS) under the DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) in 2018 range from P100,000 to P300,000 each.

    Dr. Lilibeth David, undersecretary for health facilities and infrastructure development of the Department of Health (DOH), said budgetary proposals come from the regional level and the central office just reviews it.

    She said the proposals depend on the equipment needed and the materials to finish the construction of infrastructure projects.

    HFEP is one of the banner programs of the Aquino administration for the upgrading of health facilities as well as providing training to health professionals to improve the access of people to quality health care, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

    The DBM said the DOH implemented the HFEP “with the main goal of improving the delivery of basic, essential and as well as specialized health services.”

    “The project envisions revitalization of primary health care facilities and the rationalization of the various levels of hospitals to decongest end-referral hospitals,” the DBM explained on its website.

    It said facilities will be upgraded to make them more responsive to the “need” of the catchment area, to provide Basic Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (BEmONC) and Comprehensive Emergency and Newborn Care (CEmONC) services to the population, and to strengthen the health facility referral system or network.

    Defensor however said that despite the budget allocated for the HFEP, which he said might have reached P100 billion since 2014, the country’s public health care system remains miserable.

    “It’s as if there is no intention to improve it,” said the lawmaker, chair of the committee on public accounts which investigated the alleged massive corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

    He said there are more private hospitals in some regions than public hospitals, leaving residents no choice but to seek the expensive services of the private health facilities. In Metro Manila, he said there are 27 private hospitals and only seven public hospitals.

    Last week, Defensor asked the Department of Finance (DOF) has to explain how the government spent the P1.86 trillion worth of loans from January to July this year and how much was spent for the COVID-19 response.

    While the government needs to borrow from foreign and domestic lenders to augment its pandemic response funds, Defensor said the DOF and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should explain where the money was spent so the people would know how much of the P1.86 trillion went to COVID-19 response measures, infrastructure, debt repayment, and for salaries.

    Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado earlier reported that as of Aug. 28, the DBM had released a total of P389 billion for COVID-19 response.

    Of the amount disbursed, P266.53 billion came was for discontinued projects, activities and programs (PAPs) in the 2019 and 2020 budgets, P102.06 for special purpose funds and P20.48 for regular agency appropriations.