MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Pia Cayetano, principal sponsor of the reproductive health (RH) law, said on Thursday, January 7, that her office is looking into the surprise removal of a P1-billion allocation in the 2016 budget meant to purchase family planning commodities for Filipinos.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Cayetano said in a statement.
“This was work in progress and the detailed amendments were not readily available. Thus, we work on a basis of trust – that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body, or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure,” she added.
Earlier on Thursday, Senator Loren Legarda – chair of the Senate committee on finance – said the decision to cut the allocation for the Department of Health’s (DOH) Family Health and Responsible Parenting was done after assessment of its possible impact on the program.
She defended the cut, saying it is even a source for the increases in other agencies such as the Department of National Defense (DND), which will enjoy more funds for the upgrading of its air assets “which is timely and equally important given the West Philippine Sea issue.”
Legarda also pointed out that part of the P1 billion was used for the increase in the budget of state universities and colleges, and a portion was realigned within the health department to provide for health facilities and medical assistance to indigent patients. (READ: What happened to the 2016 budget for contraceptives?)
‘Deducted in the Senate’
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the proposed amount for the Family Health and Responsible Parenting is at P3.138 billion. After the 2016 budget was enacted, the amount was reduced to P2.275 billion. Based on his calculations, the decrease is less than a billion.
“The decrease amounting to P862,794,000 pertains to the provision for the procurement of the Implanon implant (contraceptive) in view of the [Supreme Court] decision to temporarily stop the distribution and selling of the said contraceptive. The amount was deducted in the Senate,” Abad said in a text message.
He echoed the explanation of a member of the bicameral conference committee on the 2016 budget, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who said the basis for the budget cut is the temporary restraining order issued by the 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.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Population Fund on Thursday “strongly encouraged” the Philippine government to reverse the budget deletion, especially since the country is already seeing “positive, beneficial results” after it ensured greater access to family planning for the poorest of the poor through the RH law.
“Failure to sustain this commitment can swiftly reverse gains and put the country in a more difficult position to achieve its vital development target to reduce maternal deaths,” the UN agency said in a statement. (READ: Contraceptives in the Philippines: What to use, where to get)
While the health department’s RH budget suffered a P1-billion decrease, the following government agencies are just some of those that got an increase upon enactment of the 2016 General Appropriations Act:
- State Universities and Colleges (P2.74 billion)
- Department of Education (P422 million)
- Department of Agriculture (P564 million)
- Commission on Audit (P100 million)
- Office of the Ombudsman (P275 million)
- Department of Social Welfare and Development (P1.8 billion)
- DND (P1.66 billion)
- Department of Interior and Local Government (P591 million)
- Department of Public Works and Highways (P5.9 billion)
Source: Yolanda Doblon, Head of Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office, Senate of the Philippines