Diokno says restoring underspent DOH funds 'irrational'

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno stood firm against restoring the slashed funds of the Department of Health (DOH).

In his weekly briefing, Diokno said Senator Franklin Drilon's proposal to restore the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) funds is "irrational," as the DOH has underspent the budget for the program.

"Let me reiterate that the budget cut for certain programs of the DOH is due to their slow utilization of funds. Total disbursements have only amounted to P15.5 billion out of the P138.1-billion appropriations for the program since 2008," Diokno said.

Drilon, during the budget deliberations of the DOH at the Senate, told the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to restore the funds or else "the budget will not be passed."

The budget chief explained that the total unliquidated obligation from the program amounts to P57.5 billion, while the unobligated allotment stands at P27.4 billion, or a total of P84.9 billion.

"This translates to a disbursement rate of just 11% over the past 10 years," he said.

The DOH has a proposed P74.06 billion budget for 2019, or P25.53 billion less than last year's approved allocation, making it the top loser among agencies. This cut was mostly due to the slashed P30-billion budget for the HFEP.

The HFEP only received P50 million for next year – an allocation that will be used for the review of the program.

Job losses?

Diokno also clarified that the reduced health budget will not lead to job losses, due to lesser funds under the Health Human Resources Deployment (HHRD) program.

The HHRD is a program that takes care of assigning health workers to rural areas and poor communities. It also assists local government units in paying for the salary of workers when municipalities are unable to do so. 

"I will also address claims that the budget cut for DOH will displace health workers. This is false," Diokno said.

According to the budget chief, a total of P9 billion is allocated for the program, of which P1.2 billion is under the DOH budget. The remaining P7.8 billion is lodged under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, he said.

"A huge sum was placed in the MPBF to give job security and full benefits to health professionals, as it will be used for the creation of permanent and contractual positions," Diokno explained.

He again attributed the slash in the funds of the HHRD program to slow utilization. Diokno added that the proposed allocation is still bigger than what the department actually disbursed in 2017.

"Actual disbursement for [HHRD] in 2017 was 77.4%, or P6.4 billion out of the P8.3-billion appropriations. This means the DOH was not able to fill all positions as funded in the GAA (General Appropriations Act)," he said.

"In this sense, the DOH even has a larger budget as we are giving them P9 billion compared to the P6.4 billion they actually disbursed in fiscal year 2017."

But health workers remained unconvinced, saying that the budget cut would endanger the employment of 15,000 workers in far-flung areas.

"It means lesser opportunities for our health workers, especially nurses. The plight of nurses abroad seeking greener pastures would worsen the 'brain drain' of our health professionals," the Alliance of Filipino Workers, a national union of private hospital employees in Luzon, said in a statement.

"The government should increase the health budget and generate more jobs in the health sector instead of cutting its allocation." – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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