MANILA, Philippines—Several senators are questioning the lack of funding for healthcare worker benefits in the 2022 national budget.
Senator Franklin Drilon, during the briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee on Thursday (September 9), urged concerned agencies to “fix budget priorities” and lamented that the budget for next year is not in line with the reality being faced by the country.
The senator questioned why there is no allotted budget for the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and hazard pay for healthcare workers while the National Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has a P28 billion budget. He also questioned why the P45 billion budget for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots is placed under unprogrammed funds.
“We see that the public health is not given priority that it deserves,” he said. “Are we saying that insurgency has become a bigger, more dangerous threat than COVID-19 and its fast mutating variants?”
“Marami pong pagkukunan ng budget itong kampanya laban sa insurgency. Hindi po kailangang maghiwalay pa tayo ng 28 billlion (We can get budget for the campaign against insurgency, there is no need to allot P28 billion for it) in the face of all these difficulties that we are facing, and in the face of the fact that our health personnel are not being given special risk allowance,” he added.
Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan and Senator Risa Hontiveros believe the budget should be fixed in order to address the threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Hontiveros likewise lamented that there is no allotted budget for healthcare workers.
“Sa kabila ng kali-kaliwang panawagan at panaghoy ng ating healthcare workers na maibigay na ang kanilang SRA, gaano kagarapal na sa budget sa susunod na taon ay ni singkong duling, walang inilaan para sa kanilang SRA, hazard pay, allowance sa meals, accommodations at transportation? Bigyan naman natin ng dignidad ang ating medical frontliners (Amid the calls and cries our healthcare workers for their SRA, its shameless how next year’s budget has no allotment for their SRA, hazard pay, meal allowance, accommodation, and transportation. Let us at least give our medical frontliners some dignity),” Hontiveros said in a statement.
Senator Joel Villanueva said that the Executive branch should submit an errata to provide benefits for healthcare workers.
He added that a P23 billion budget is needed to double the SRA and active hazard duty pay of around 120,000 healthcare workers in private and public hospitals.
“Kung seryoso po ang ating gobyerno sa pagbibigay ng SRA at AHDP para sa ating mga healthcare workers, ang gagawin lang naman ng DBM at DOH ay magpadala ng budget errata sa Senado at sa House of Representatives, (If our government is serious in providing SRA and AHDP to our healthcare workers, the Department of Budget and Management and Department of Health can simply send a budget errata to the Senate and House of Representatives),” he said.
Meanwhile, Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez said it was him who proposed to include COVID-19 booster shots in the budget, however, experts panels and health authorities said the country still does not need booster shots for COVID-19.
“I had a big argument with them and in fact the result is that it is actually the budget. Had we not argued with that, it would not even be in the budget because they said it’s not yet proven, it’s not yet approved, etc. I said I don’t care I said I just want to make sure that we have an item in the budget that we can activate if and when the health authorities decide that it is required,” he said.
The DBM reiterated that there is a need to allot budget for NTF-ELCAC.
“It will actually provide development funds for barangays which have been recently freed of insurgency or leftist elements. If government will not intervene, then who will? That’s the reason why we also assert that the NTF-ELCAC is important. However we defer to the wisdom of Senate, House if they find that these reasons are not sufficient,” according to DBM Officer-in-Charge Usec. Tina Marie Rose Canda.
The Malacañang has yet to provide a response to the senators’ concerns. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)