House bills seek P2-B fund for DOH to buy masks, protective equipment

MANILA, Philippines – Two ranking lawmakers are now proposing to give at least a P2-billion supplemental budget to the Department of Health (DOH) to purchase surgical masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

On Tuesday, February 4, House committee on health chair Angelina Tan filed House Bill (HB) No. 6166 seeking P2.04 billion for the DOH, while House committee on ways and means chair Joey Salceda's HB No. 6177 pegged the amount at P2.24 billion. 

Salceda's HB No. 6177 explicitly said P2.04 billion would primarily be used to buy surgical masks and PPE for the following:

Another P20 million would be allotted for the hazard pay and benefits of epidemiologists on the frontlines of fighting the new disease.

Tan's HB No. 6166 was more general, as its Section 1 states the proposed supplemental budget would be for "augmenting the budget for the health system response" of the DOH. 

But in her media statement on Wednesday, February 5, Tan said the P2.04 billion is the "estimated amount needed to buy additional surgical masks and personal protective equipment over the next 3 months."

She previously sought just a P1-billion supplemental budget for the DOH to help fight the coronavirus threat.

HB No. 6166 would require the DOH to submit a report to the Senate committees on finance, and health and demography as well as the House committees on appropriations and health to give a detailed account of how the supplemental budget would be used.

But World Health Organization country representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe already said they are not recommending the use of surgical masks for the general public amid the 2019-nCoV scare.

He said it would be "preferable" if the masks were instead reserved for high-risk individuals and health workers. 

President Rodrigo Duterte also said the public "hysteria" over the new disease is "not needed," though he also said the government is set to procure face masks for Filipinos amid the ongoing shortage in the market.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Philippines has recorded one death due to 2019-nCoV, the first Chinese to die from the new disease outside of China.

This 44-year-old Chinese man is one of 3 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country along with a 38-year-old woman, with whom he traveled from Wuhan, and a 60-year-old woman, who also came from Wuhan.

The DOH is currently monitoring 133 patients for possible 2019-nCoV.

Globally, the coronavirus has already infected 23,939 people and killed 492.

Duterte already prohibited travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau from entering the Philippines. – 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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