File photo shows Sen. Grace Poe.
MANILA, Philippines — Another senator on Thursday raised concern over the possible underfunding of the public health sector in 2021.
As the Senate resumed its briefing with economic managers Thursday, Sen. Grace Poe flagged the Department of Public Works and Highways’ proposed budget for flood control exceeding the amount allocated for the Department of Health, which is at the helm of the country’s response to the pandemic.
“Why is the funding for the flood control projects of DPWH bigger than the entire budget of DOH? I just want to clarify because the fund of DOH is P131.22 billion but the fund of DPWH for flood control projects is at least P150 billion,” Poe said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Since COVID-19 is still present, one would assume that including our health facilities would be the priority,” she added.
Despite this, Poe acknowledged the need to sufficiently address environmental concerns.
“[There] are really some legitimate flood control projects. But there are a few flood control projects that are questionable because it’s hard to keep track of [whether] they were really done,” she said.
Senators: ‘Economic recovery dependent on public health’
Further advocating for “enormous” resources that can adequately respond to the country’s public health needs amid the pandemic, Poe stressed that winning the battle against COVID-19 will also lead to economic recovery.
Senators from the minority bloc on Wednesday expressed similar sentiments during a Development Budget Coordination Committee briefing with the government’s economic managers.
“Are we progressing [in containing COVID-19]? Where are we headed? I think we have to answer these questions first before we talk about [economic] projections in the budget and how much are we going to spend where,” Sen. Kiko Pangilinan said.
He further emphasized that the recovery of Philippine economy is anchored on how well the government manages the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The elephant in the room is: where is our campaign to address the COVID spread headed?” he further probed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros warned that against the “anemic” health budget amid “the largest health crisis of our time.”
In addition to the DPWH, she pointed out that the Department of Education, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of National Defense, all had higher allocations than the health sector in the proposed 2021 National Budget.
“The health sector cannot be fifth among the departments. We are in the middle of a pandemic and it should be expected that we will be looking at a more health-heavy, COVID-and-recession-responsive budget,” she said in Filipino.
The combined allocation for the Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. under the proposed budget is P203.1 billion.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon flagged the reduction of the health department’s budget from the adjusted P153.1 billion for 2020 to P131 billion in 2021.
“We need to improve our testing, contract tracing and our ability to treat. How can we achieve this if we reduced the budget of the DOH?” Drilon said.
He further argued that the country’s economic recovery is dependent on the government’s ability to protect public health.
“We should be able to provide confidence to the public that we are indeed able to address the pandemic. People are afraid to go out today. We can have all kinds of stimulus but as long as there is no confidence on the part of the public, we will find difficulty recovering,” Drilon said. — Bella Perez-Rubio
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