Quimbo questions measly P13B for pandemic response in DOH proposed budget

Marikina City Representative Stella Quimbo, an economist, questioned the measly P13 billion fund for coronavirus health response in the Department of Health's (DOH) proposed budget for 2021.

During the House plenary deliberation on the proposed 2021 budget on Thursday, October 15, Quimbo said that the DOH had already spent P82 billion in total for its pandemic response under the two Bayanihan laws.

"Napakaliit naman ng P13 billion na pina-plano po for 2021 compared to P82 billion in 2020. Ano po ang nangyari doon? Sa tingin 'nyo po ba ay sapat na ang P13 billion?" Quimbo asked.

(P13 billion is too small for the planned spending for 2021 compared to the P82 billion spent in 2020. What happened there? Do you think P13 billion is enough?)

Zamboanga Representative Manuel Dalipe, a sponsor of the DOH's budget, said the funding lacks over P10 billion.

"Kung puwede sana ay madagdag ito (I hope this would be added). This is for the full requirements for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to cover the 20 million population in accordance with the directives of his excellency President Duterte. Ang sagot po kulang pa po. Kailangan pa po natin ng P10.34 billion (The answer is it is still lacking. We still need P10.34 billion)," Dalipe said.

Only P2.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccines

The DOH has set aside only a total of P2.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. (READ: DOH needs P12.9B to purchase COVID-19 vaccines)

Quimbo said that in her calculation, if a vaccine initially has a unit cost of P600, it would only cover some 3.9 million individuals given the P2.5 billion budget. 

Dalipe explained that the DOH proposed budget was crafted before Duterte's directive to vaccinate 20 million of the poorest Filipinos, which is why only P2.5 billion was allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Nakapagtataka, anong nangyari? Alam naman natin na ang 2021 budget ay isang COVID budget at alam naman natin na para mag-recover ang ekonomiya ang number 1 na kailangang gawin ay i-handle ang pagkalat ng COVID," Quimbo said. 

(It's strange, what happened there? We all know that the 2021 budget is a COVID budget, and we know that for the economy to recover the number 1 thing we need to do is to curb the spread of COVID-19.)

During the House deliberations on September 18, the DOH said it needs P12.9 billion to procure coronavirus vaccines for the targeted 20 million Filipinos. Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said the government will source the remaining amount through a bank loan.

In a televised public address aired on Wednesday night, Duterte said his goal is for his government to shoulder COVID-19 vaccination for each Filipino. (READ: Duterte wants entire Philippine population given COVID-19 vaccine for free)

Dalipe agreed with Quimbo that there's a need to recompute the budget allocation for DOH's pandemic response to cover Duterte's directive to vaccinate 20 million Filipinos.

For Quimbo, data management of the DOH should also be allocated with enough funds.

Dalipe said that DOH initially proposed P679 million for its data management, but the budget department only allocated P97 million.

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

As of Thursday, the Philippines still has the most number of COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia at 348,698 cases, despite having the longest lockdowns in the world. – 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.