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DOH: P530M 'enough' to combat coronavirus for now but more funds needed

MANILA, Philippines –  Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Department of Health (DOH) can use P530 million of its 2020 budget to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus while waiting for Congress approval of its proposed P2-billion supplemental budget.

Duque gave the assurance in a press conference, when asked if the DOH had enough funds to sustain government efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, without a supplemental budget.

“Yes! We have enough budget. I just received a guidance from the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) during our Cabinet meeting last Monday and he (DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado) has pointed out to us that we have about close to P530 million available budget of the DOH that we can use in the meantime that we are waiting the P2-plus billion,” Duque said. 

He stressed the importance of the the DOH's requested supplemental budget, which would be used  to purchase surgical masks and personal protective equipment of some 5,000 health workers in the frontlines of the fight against the new coronavirus.

Two bills were filed at the House of Representatives seeking to give an additional P2 billion to the DOH for its campaign against COVID-19.

The House committee on appropriations has yet to approve the measures due to the ongoing power struggle in the House. Davao City 3rd District Representative Isidro Ungab was sacked as House appropriations panel chairman on Tuesday, March 3, and was replaced by ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap. 

Under the 1987 Constitution, all bills on the national budget must first be passed by the House before they can be voted upon by the Senate.

When asked, Duque declined to comment on whether he thought the alleged coup against Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was delaying the approval of DOH’s additional funds. 

“Wala akong inside information [tungkol sa] nagpalitan ng mga chairmanships so I don’t know how that one is affecting [our budget proposal]. But we have been writing follow-up letters,” Duque said. 

(I have no inside information about the changing of chairmanships so I don’t know how that one is affecting our budget proposal. But we have been writing follow-up letters.) 

The DOH chief planned to write a new follow-up letter addressed to Yap to expedite the approval of the  supplemental fund. 

Of the total of 662 patients probed by the DOH for possible infection, only 39 remain admitted in hospitals nationwide as of Wednesday afternoon. The other 620 patients under investigation have been discharged.  

No local transmission of COVID-19 has been recorded in the Philippines so far. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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