Health workers: Use P19-B NTF-ELCAC budget to fund cash-strapped public hospitals

The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) urged lawmakers to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and instead reallocate its budget to 66 public hospitals under the Department of Health (DOH) to help in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“Health workers strongly urge our legislators to defund NTF-ELCAC and re-allocate its P19 billion so that it may not be wasted or may be used for corruption and vote-buying activities in the upcoming 2022 national and local elections,” the AHW said in a statement on Saturday, October 31.

The group said the budget could instead be used to provide free health services to the public.

“No more free health services are enjoyed by patients in public hospitals due to the 'fee for service scheme' and 'revenue enhancement program' being implemented by government hospitals. Patients are required to pay excessive and exorbitant fees for services rendered to them notwithstanding the long wait to be seen by the doctor. Patients and health workers in public hospitals, suffer deplorable conditions,” the group said.

AHW president Ronald Mendoza also said that the proposed 2021 budget was “unacceptable.” The group called on the senators to prioritize the use of funds for the greater needs of the people during the pandemic, after the House of Representatives submitted to the Senate a copy of the proposed 2021 budget on Tuesday, October 27.

“Huge budget is allotted for pork barrels, intelligence and confidential funds of generals and government officials, including the NTF-ELCAC. Meanwhile, the number of infected and deaths of health workers and citizens continues to increase due to unpreparedness and lack of funds to curb the coronavirus disease. The Duterte administration’s priority is to suppress its critics and not the health workers’ and peoples’ health and safety,” Mendoza said.

The group further said that the budget for 23 hospitals nationwide was cut by at least P1.2 billion, and that there was meager allotment for the procurement of personal protective equipment for medical frontliners. They also said there was no fund for the benefits, hazard pay, and salary increases of health workers amid the pandemic.

As of Friday, October 30, the country’s COVID-19 cases reached 378,933 and 7,185 deaths.

“We cannot allow the NTF-ELCAC to use the people's coffers to intimidate and terrorize its citizens, activists, and critics and suppress freedom of speech and democracy. While terrorizing and red-tagging critics, the stench of corruption in various branches of this government is being revealed one after another. The Duterte administration should shape up,” Mendoza said.

The NTF-ELCAC is a task force formed by President Rodrigo Duterte to fight communist insurgencies in the country. But it has had a history of circulating posts attacking the media and has been slammed for red-tagging progressive groups and journalists critical of the government.

The group also called for an “immediate special audit” on the NTF-ELCAC budget, as well as a lifestyle check on the high-ranking officials of the task force. – Rappler.com

Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is part of the Rappler Research Team’s fact-checking unit. Aside from debunking dubious claims, she also enjoys crunching data and writing stories about the economy, environment, and media democracy.

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