House panel OKs P1.65 billion supplemental fund for DOH to combat coronavirus

Mara Cepeda
House panel OKs P1.65 billion supplemental fund for DOH to combat coronavirus

JOSEPH VIDAL/SENATE PRIB

The approved amount, however, is much less than the P3.1 billion the DOH needs

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House committee on appropriations approved reallocating P1.65 billion from the National Treasury to the Department of Health (DOH) to help combat the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Lawmakers unanimously passed the still-unnumbered bill giving additional funds to the DOH on Tuesday, March 10. 

The approved amount, however, is much less than the P3.1 billion the DOH needs to purchase surgical masks and personal protective equipment of some 5,000 health workers on the frontlines of the fight against 2019-nCoV. (READ: ‘Coronavirus testing kits must be available in all hospitals’ – Zubiri)

The two bills previously filed in the House of Representatives originally sought to give an additional P2 billion to the DOH for its campaign against COVID-19, the disease caused by 2019-nCoV. 

But the National Treasury said during the hearing that only P1.65 billion in excess funds are available to be realigned to the DOH. 

This means the health department will have to source the remaining supplemental funds from its own savings as well as contributions from Pagcor and PCSO. 

Duque told reporters after the hearing that Pagcor has committed to give P2 billion while the PCSO will be providing DOH with P420 million. 

“Okay naman ‘yon, dahil karagdagan ‘yan, dahil mayroon namang P2 billion na commitment ang (That’s okay because those are additional funds on top of the P2 billion committed by) Pagcor. So, so far, that will satisfy our requirement for the personal protective equipment, about P2.25 billion thereabouts. So the other needs, which some congressmen have manifested to take a look at the inventory of respiratories, so hopefully it’s enough,” Duque said

“But if it’s not, then the P1.6 billion may be used for procurement,” he added.

The committee approved the supplemental budget despite being informed by House committee on health chair Angelina Tan that President Rodrigo Duterte refuses to certify the bill as urgent for now. This means the supplemental budget may not be approved this week, as the 18th Congress only has two session days left before it takes a two-month break starting Saturday, March 14. (READ: Duterte rejects Metro Manila coronavirus lockdown for now)

As of Tuesday morning, the Philippines has reported a total of 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has already declared a state of public health emergency. He also ordered classes suspended in Metro Manila from March 10 to 14. Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.