What happened to the 2016 budget for contraceptives?
MANILA, Philippines – Health officials and advocates alike are alarmed after finding out that a P1-billion ($21.241 million) allocation for contraceptives was removed from the 2016 budget, especially after the decade-long struggle of the reproductive health (RH) law in Congress.
A check on the 2015 and 2016 General Appropriations Act (GAA) showed the allocation for Family Health and Responsible Parenting indeed went down from P3.274 billion ($69.534 million) in 2015 to P2.275 billion in 2016 ($48.325 million).
Health Secretary Janette Garin said the P1 billion meant to purchase family planning commodities such as condoms, pills, and IUDs was removed during the deliberations of the bicameral conference committee on the 2016 GAA.
Without the budget, Garin said they will have to depend on health partners and donors for the program to continue this year. (READ: Contraceptives in the Philippines: What to use, where to get)
But what happened at the bicam conference?
Senator Loren Legarda, who chairs the Senate committee on finance, said cutting the allocation for Family Health and Responsible Parenting had to do with how the Department of Health (DOH) obligated its 2015 budget.
"As of June 2015, the DOH status of funds shows that of the P3.27-billion allocation, only P955 million has been obligated or 29%. For the remaining 6 months, P2.3 billion or 71% has yet to be obligated," she told Rappler on Thursday, January 7.
According to Legarda, a known supporter of the RH law, "any unused 2015 budget is still available in 2016."
"In addition, the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings. Full year utilization rate of DOH for 2014 is 83%," the lady senator added.
But when Garin was asked by reporters on Wednesday, January 6, if the funds needed to procure contraceptives can come from existing budget, she said no.
"Hindi e, kasi naka-line item siya e. Ang budget, hindi namin 'yan nagagalaw. Kung ito para dito, 'yan lang talaga. Hindi siya flexible, 'di gaya ng dati," explained the health secretary, who was representative of the First District of Iloilo prior to her Cabinet post.
(We can't because it's a line item. We can't touch it. If this allocation is for this purpose, you stick to it. It's not flexible, unlike before.)
Sought for comment, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad has yet to reply to questions clarifying the budget process for DOH as of this posting.
Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, also a member of the bicam and a staunch RH critic, said the basis for the budget cut is the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court (SC) in June 2015.
The SC not only temporarily stopped the distribution and sale of implants in June 2015; it also temporarily prohibited the health department from granting any pending application for RH commodities.
"Supreme Court TRO is the basis for the cuts in contraceptives and injectables. Besides, [Commission on Audit] says the budget for those have been misused," Sotto told Rappler.
The TRO came more than a year after the High Court held the RH law constitutional. – with reports from Patty Pasion/Rappler.com
*US$1 = P47.086