House appropriations committee okays P103.6-B health budget for 2018

MANILA, Philippines – After almost 8 hours of deliberations, the House committee on appropriations approved the proposed 2018 budget for the Department of Health (DOH).

During a budget hearing on Monday, August 14, the committee tackled the P103.6 billion proposed budget for 2018, a 9% increase from the department’s 2017 budget of P95.27 billion. (READ: Education, infra to get bulk of proposed 2018 nat'l budget)

Lawmakers in particular zoomed in on two oft-repeated issues by President Rodrigo Duterte that concern the department: drug rehabilitation and health services for the country’s soldiers.

Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial said over P2.6 billion was allocated in 2017 but “mega drug rehabilitation centers” will no longer be used because of donations from the private sector.

At least 5 regional drug treatment and rehabilitation centers are being constructed in Isabela, Mountain Province, Palawan, Zamboanga, and Taguig. No other “mega drug rehabilitation facilities” are also being built elsewhere, courtesy of donations from different private groups and individuals.

Ubial now wants those funds to be used in funding barangay and rural health units. They are also being eyed to fund medical services for the military, a need Duterte has repeatedly emphasized.

The President once chided Ubial, prodding her to speed up the purchase of medical equipment for Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) hospitals.

Speaking during the budget hearing, Ubial clarified that upgrades to AFP medical centers are under the Department of National Defense (DND), which was also set to defend its budget later that day.

The Health Department is instead assisting the DND in hastening the process.

Budget cuts

And while the department is asking for an increase in funds for health facilities, the slash in its budget for 49 hospitals alarmed lawmakers who argued it did not jibe with President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to care for the country’s poorest.

Forty-nine public hospitals – both regional and special – will be seeing a Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) budget cut of P1.488 billion in 2018, a decision which Ubial said was “beyond the control of the [department].”

Ubial explained that the budget department decided on the 2018 allocations using actual obligations – or the money that was spent – from 2016. The health secretary said the budget department did not accept their budget proposal which was based on the actual occupancy rates of hospitals.

Bayan Muna party list Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate did not accept this explanation, citing reports where hospitals wanted higher budgets.

“For example, one hospital reports that they are experiencing budget deficit for almost 4 years, their budget is already spent out by October each year. Another one claims a 500 bed capacity but their occupancy rate reaches 200%, hence their budget will never suffice,” said the lawmaker in a statement.

Zarate noted the following hospitals suffered the biggest budget cuts:

Zarate highlighted the plight of Amai Pakpak in Marawi City, which was damaged when local terror groups attempted to take over the city. The medical center continues to serve the needs of both soldiers and civilians in the area.

“How could the hospital be rehabilitated and cater to the needs of the people with their operating expenses cut in half? Certainly, this is not malasakit (concern) for the poor,” he said.

Ubial said the department has already told hospitals to maximize their spending capacity.

The House of Representatives is on its third week of deliberating on the proposed budgets of different departments for 2018. It expects to approve the P3.8 trillion budget by mid-September. –