Budget Watch

COVID-19 response, health workers’ benefits, earmarked cancer fund slashed in DOH 2023 budget

Bonz Magsambol
COVID-19 response, health workers’ benefits, earmarked cancer fund slashed in DOH 2023 budget

Health OIC Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire attends the 2023 budget briefing of the Department of Health at the House of Representatives on September 12, 2022.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire says the DOH proposed P95 billion for the COVID-19 response, but the budget was slashed to P24.49 billion
COVID-19 response, health workers’ benefits, earmarked cancer fund slashed in DOH 2023 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Several programs of the Department of Health (DOH) – among them pandemic response, healthcare support for cancer patients, and COVID-19 allowance for healthcare workers – face budget cuts in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).

This was revealed during the budget deliberations at the House of Representatives on Monday, September 12, where DOH Officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed to lawmakers for more funds so the agency could sustain the affected programs and benefits.

COVID-19 response, health workers’ benefits, earmarked cancer fund slashed in DOH 2023 budget

Vergeire said the DOH proposed P95 billion for the COVID-19 response, but the budget allocated in the NEP was slashed to P24.49 billion. She said that though infections are declining, more funds will be needed to procure the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines.

Iloilo Representative Janette Garin, a former health secretary, also noticed that budget for the prevention and control of communicable diseases was also cut.

“If you look at the comparison of the 2022 budget vis-a-vis the 2023 proposed budget, there is a reduction of 71.21%. This means that our funds for communicable diseases, including COVID-19, tuberculosis (TB), HIV, leptospirosis, monkeypox, Japanese encephalitis, and many more were slashed by P4.17 billion,” Garin said.

But Vergeire said that the current fund for that line item would be sufficient since the DOH wouldn’t be needing to procure personal protective equipment sets and GeneXpert catridges used for COVID-19 testing because the agency has enough stocks for 2023.

No fund to support cancer patients

Vergeire also asked lawmakers to restore the P500 million line item budget for cancer patients. This was not included in the 2023 NEP.

“We did our appeal to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), but, still, we were not given that approval. So now we’re asking for help and appealing to our House of Representatives to bring back the cancer [fund] worth P500 million to our budget line item,” Vergeire said.

Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Representative Bernadette Herrera asked Vergeire about funding assistance for cancer patients.

On September 8, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Representative Ralph Recto clarified that the “mother funds” that covered the Cancer Control Program and the Cancer Assistance Fund “did not suffer any cuts in the proposed 2023 national budget,” and in fact about to get an increase. What was removed from the NEP were the “earmarks specifying the amounts that will go to cancer control and cancer assistance.”

“What the House should do is not to merely restore the earmarks, but to increase the funding for both cancer control and cancer assistance, and make them distinct and separate programs,” Recto said.

Pressed if the assistance funds for 2022 were used, Vergeire said Republic Act No. 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act was not fully implemented in 2022 due to “contradicting provisions” in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

However, Vergeire said that the DOH crafted a joint memorandum circular together with the DBM in August to implement the cancer assistance fund.

“There were these contradicting provisions within the GAA of 2022 versus the specific IRR (implementing rules and regulations) and the law that we have, which is why we need to clarify how funds would be used,” Vergeire added.

In February 2019, then-president Rodrigo Duterte signed the law to provide affordable and accessible medical treatment for cancer patients.

Not enough funds for health workers

During the deliberations, it was also bared that COVID-19 benefits and allowances of healthcare workers under the proposed 2023 budget will only last until the first quarter.

“We have submitted a total of P76 billion for us to be able to sustain the provision of these benefits and allowances to our healthcare workers, but we were only provided around three months of this P76 billion,” Vergeire said. The approved amount under the NEP was only P19 billion.

Health workers have been protesting over delays in the provision of benefits amid the pandemic.

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The DOH proposed budget under the NEP is P301 billion. – Rappler.com

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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.