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PGH needs a budget increase, not further cuts

Philippine General HospitalPhilippine General Hospital 

FOR the third year in a row, the government has proposed a budget cut for the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the nation’s second largest public hospital, in spite of the persistent Covid-19 pandemic and other public health threats. This is frankly unconscionable, and we join those in Congress and the dedicated but hard-pressed workers of PGH itself who are calling for a budget increase, rather than more cuts.

The budget for PGH in the 2023 national budget proposal delivered to Congress by Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman is P5.9 billion (not P5.4 billion as initially reported), which is a reduction of P400 million from this year’s P6.3 billion. This year’s budget in turn was a P600-million reduction from the P6.9 billion allotted to PGH in 2020.

We find it terribly ironic that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would propose another budget reduction for PGH while at the same time, arguing to Congress that the 2023 budget proposal is in line with the Marcos administration’s “8-point economic agenda.” One of those points, according to the DBM’s own statement to Congress, “prioritizes protection of individuals, households and communities from the persisting effects of the pandemic, as well as future unprecedented catastrophes through the strengthening of social services and health care, as well as the safe resumption of face-to-face education.”

In DBM’s defense, however, it should not bear all the blame for a lack of awareness and compassion for the needs of PGH to deliver badly needed health care services to poor Filipinos in Metro Manila and beyond. A substantial part of the disconnection from reality can be attributed to the administration of PGH itself.

In a recent statement in response to a call from the All UP Workers Union-Manila/PGH to double the hospital’s budget to P10 billion, PGH spokesman Dr. Jonas del Rosario informed the media that PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi also agreed that the proposed allocation is “more than enough” to fund the hospital’s programs. Del Rosario pointed out that PGH had actually asked for P6.1 billion in the 2023 budget, but “we were hesitant to ask for more” because “we have not really spent some of the budget that was given to us last year.”

We have to ask, given the chronic understaffing and under-equipping of PGH to serve all the patients who need it, what exactly is its administration doing with the funds it is given? As our columnist Marlen Ronquillo recently pointed out, citing information shared by PGH staffers, the hospital cannot afford to hire more nurses, or regularize its roughly 300 contractual workers — something that is required by law. Training more doctors, a key part of PGH’s mandate, is at present completely out of the question due to its financial constraints. And while the staff of PGH does heroic work day in and day out to provide medical services despite the lack of resource1s, obviously the number of people they can help and the quality of care for those who they can serve have been severely degraded.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez expressed displeasure with the PGH’s reduced budget proposal in a hearing last week, which gives us hope that the responsible officials — either in the DBM, or in Congress, which exercises the power of the purse for the government — will come to their senses. “We should be increasing the budgetary allocations of state universities and colleges, which are the poor student’s schools of choice, and government hospitals, which are the pauper’s go-to health facilities, instead of reducing their funds,” Rodriguez said, also referring to the reduced budget for PGH’s mother institution, the University of the Philippines.

The legislature has some power to correct the budget, but it would be better if the DBM follows Rodriguez’s recommendation, and submits an erratum to that effect to Congress. After all, it would be in keeping with President Marcos’ expressed ambition to expand and improve public health services in the country; if cuts need to be made to compensate, there are surely many far less critical areas of the budget where the money could be found.

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