‘Sayang’: Robredo questions DOH’s unused funds amid small ‘ayuda’, unpaid health workers
MANILA, Philippines — It is a pity that the Department of Health (DOH) still has unused funds when the country has only provided meager cash aid while some health workers are yet to receive their hazard pay, Vice President Leni Robredo said on Thursday.
Robredo was asked during an ambush interview about her views on the Commission on Audit (COA) report on DOH’s expenditures, where it was revealed that the department’s P67.32 billion COVID-19 funds had deficiencies that were caused by non-compliance with existing regulations.
She said it is ironic that the government has repeatedly insisted on lacking the budget to fund programs when funds are actually available at their disposal.
“Hindi ko pa napapag-aralan iyong detalye at humihingi na ako ng pag-aaral ng detalye sa aming policy team. Pero kung ano man iyon, iyon iyong nakakasayang,” Robredo said on the sidelines of her office and the Quezon City government’s Vaccine Express initiative.
(I have not yet studied the fill details, and I am asking for more details from our policy team. But whatever that is, it is such a waste that the funds weren’t spent properly.)
“Iyon iyong nakakasayang kasi parati nating sinasabi na wala tayong pera, kulang iyong—hindi natin mabibigyan ng ayuda iyong lahat dahil kulang iyong pera, hindi natin nabibigay kaagad iyong hazard pay para sa mga health workers dahil kulang iyong budget. Kulang pa rin iyong PhilHealth hindi pa rin nababayaran iyong ibang mga ospital dahil kulang iyong budget,” she added.
(It’s a waste because we always say that we do not have money, we lack funds, that we cannot provide proper cash aid to everyone because we do not have the budget, we cannot provide the hazard pay for health workers immediately. We still cannot pay hospitals because PhilHealth also does not have a high budget.)
In effect, COA said the deficiencies led to missed opportunities for the department primarily tasked with managing the pandemic. It also cast doubt on the regularity of transactions while keeping much-needed funds unspent.
A list of recommendations to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was also placed in the report, including reminding and directing unit heads to act urgently in utilizing funds allocated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duque was also urged to instruct the administration and financial team to closely coordinate and “conduct regular/periodic assessment” on the utilization of COVID-19 funds while hastening the procurement process “through proper planning, supervision and monitoring of scheduled activities.”
Robredo said that it would be better for the government to spend wisely instead of acquiring too many loans, as the interest may swell up if the country mismanages the money it borrows.
“Kung totoo ngang maraming hindi nagastos, malungkot ito. Malungkot kasi gustong sabihin may pera pero hindi siya nagamit or hindi siya nagastos nang tama. And on top of it, alam natin na marami tayong utang ngayon. So iyong tanong, bakit tayo mangungutang kung marami palang pera na hindi nagagastos?”she asked
(If it is true that a lot of funds remained unspent, this is sad. This is sad because it means we have the money, but we could not use it properly. And on top of it, we know that we are deep in loans today. So the question is, why are we borrowing money if we have a lot of funds that are untapped?)
“Kasi kapag nag-utang tayo, every day na inutang natin iyong pera nagbabayad tayo ng interes. Pero again, sabi ko nga ang nakita ko pa lang iyong mga news articles. Pag-aaralan natin kung ano iyong detalye no’n,” she assured the public.
(Because if we ask for loans, every single day that passes by means we are also paying interest. But again, I said that I have only read news articles. We would study more on the details.)
It was only on Tuesday that Robredo was commenting about the country’s misplaced priorities about the budget, saying that there were instances that the government could have used time and money to build intensive care facilities to combat high occupancy rates in hospitals during surges.
However, not much attention was placed on these concerns.
She also stressed that the government could not hire more nurses until higher salaries for health workers are funded, as the Philippines lags compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of starting pay for nurses.
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