2022 budget not ready for war vs COVID – Garin, Binay
MANILA, Philippines — The proposed 2022 national budget is not geared for the war against COVID-19, given the lack of allocations for key measures against the severe respiratory disease sweeping across the country, two lawmakers said on Wednesday.
Sen. Nancy Binay said there was no money set aside for contact tracing, which is vital in pandemic response, and there were no funds allocated for health workers and financial aid for individuals affected by lockdowns or quarantine restrictions.
“The 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID. There is so much that is lacking,” she said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum. “COVID-19 is here to stay and is not going away anytime soon. They should have had this in mind when they were crafting the budget.”
Binay said she expected major changes in the proposed P5.024-trillion 2022 national budget and this time Congress must “exert its power of the purse.”
Tests as ‘weapons’
Speaking at the same forum, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said the proposed budget also did not fund free tests for the coronavirus. The tests are a “weapon for seeing our enemy,” she said.
She explained that testing will help determine who should be in isolation and who should be the subject of contact tracing. She added that the high price for tests was discouraging many people from getting them.
“Much of it [proposed budget] is not responsive to what we need to do in 2022. We need to aggressively test and immediately isolate,” the former health secretary said.
“If we really want to contribute to the world, we lessen our infections by immediately contact tracing, testing and isolating,” she said.
Officials of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had said they wanted money for the measures mentioned by the two lawmakers but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) either did not provide funds or drastically reduced the allocations.
During the House hearing on the DILG budget on Sept. 6, Secretary Eduardo Año admitted that the agency had no funds for contact tracers. He asked lawmakers to add P6.7 billion to the DILG budget so that it could hire 25,000 contact tracers next year.
He explained that the DILG requested funding for this, but the DBM did not allocate money for it.
The bulk of the DILG’s P248-billion budget for 2022 would be funding for the Philippine National Police.
At the budget hearing for the DOH on Sept. 3, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH had initially proposed a pandemic response fund of P73.99 billion, but the DBM rejected the total and chopped it down to only P19.68 billion.
Realign ‘Botika’ funds
Garin told the Inquirer on Wednesday that the government must allocate funds for free testing and contact tracing in the 2022 budget of the DOH.
She said the P280-million allocation for the Botika ng Bayan next year should be realigned and used to procure booster shots. Duque had agreed to this, she said.
“How can we lessen infections and positivity rate if we can’t isolate early? How can we lessen morbidity if we can’t detect cases early because people don’t have the budget for testing?“ Garin said.
“If we lock down again and do nothing, the impact will be hard on the economy but no substantial health impact [would be] felt,” she added.
The country has 255,854 contact tracers, 15,000 of them hired by the DILG and the rest employed by local governments, and personnel from the PNP and the Bureau of Fire Protection.
The DILG said the number of contact tracers was enough to cover the population. The DOH had set a contact tracer to population ratio of 1:800.
The contract of the 15,000 DILG-hired contact tracers were extended until December this year, after President Duterte approved the release of P1.7-billion funding last month.
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