Duque says COVID-19 response will suffer in a reenacted budget

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Friday, October 9, that reenacting the 2021 budget would deal a severe blow to the country's pandemic response

"Kapag po reenacted, ang tatamaan po dito 'yung COVID-19 response. Malaki po ang tama nito sa COVID-19 response," Duque said during the Senate budget hearing on the Department of Health's (DOH) proposed budget for 2021.

(If reenacted, the COVID-19 response would suffer. This would have a serious effect on our COVID-19 response.)

"We cannot afford [it] because of the circumstances. Kinakailangan talaga ng karagdagan. Kulang pa nga po ito, kung tutuusin sa bakuna pa lamang (We really need more. This is actually not enough, especially for the vaccine procurement)," he added.

The DOH proposed budget for 2021 wa P203.74 billion – 27% higher than the P176.46 billion approved this year. (READ: DOH seeks bigger budget in 2021)

Meanwhile, the DOH earlier said that it needed P12.9 billion to purchase coronavirus vaccines for some 20 million poorest Filipinos. The agency has set aside only P2.5 billion for vaccines intended for high-risk populations such as barangay frontliners, medical frontliners, and indigent senior citizens.

"Kahit nagtaas tayo ng 27% eh kulang, paano pa kung reenacted? Mahihirapan po tayo at 'yung programa naman kagaya ng measles, polio, hepatitis at iba pa pong mga vaccine-preventable disease eh doon naman po tayo magkakaroon ng mataas na kaso. Mahihirapan po talaga," Duque explained.

(Even though we increased our budget by 27%, it is still not enough, what more if reenacted? We would have a hard time, and the programs like measles, polio, hepatitis, and other vaccine-preventable diseases, we might have a spike in cases here. This is very difficult for us.)

Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje explained during the House deliberations on the DOH's proposed budget that the agency would source the remaining funds for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines through a bank loan.

"It is not the intention not to have a budget for it but it is an economic decision that this will be procured by way of loan. Isn’t that correct, Mr. Secretary?" Senator Pia Cayetano asked Duque. He replied, "That is correct."

The DOH earlier said that large-scale clinical trials under the World Health Organization’s solidarity trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine may start by the end of October.

WHO solidarity trials would take place alongside independent trials for other vaccines being eyed by the Philippine vaccine expert panel headed by the Department of Science and Technology. 

These include 3 vaccines being developed by China (including front-runners Sinopharm and Sinovac), as well as two from Taiwan. State scientists are also reviewing documents on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

The Russian vaccine has been widely criticized after President Vladimir Putin approved it prior to extensive clinical trials.

On Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte called for a special session of Congress from October 13 to 16 to ensure the timely passage of 2021 national budget. (READ: Duterte calls Congress to special session to ensure timely passage of 2021 budget)

This reverses the House’s decision to prematurely suspend its session and defer their 3rd reading and approval of the 2021 budget bill to November 16. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano initiated this move after his rival for the speakership, Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco, said he would take over as Speaker on October 14.

As of Friday, the Philippines still has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia at 334,770 cases. The death toll has exceeded 6,000. – Rappler.com



Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

image