The Rodrigo Duterte administration submitted a P5.024-trillion proposed budget for 2022. Despite being 11.5% higher than the 2021 national budget, however, this proposal earmarked only P240 billion, or 4%, for the much-needed pandemic response.
The President said in his budget message that the proposal will “sustain our COVID-19 response efforts while supporting the gradual transition to full recovery.” The actual content of the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2022, however, contradicts this as various departments and offices involved in the country’s pandemic response see slashes in their budgets for 2022.
Though Congress may still increase or decrease specific items in the proposed budget plan for next year, these changes will still have to go through rigorous budget deliberations.
Below is a list of the budget cuts in the 2022 NEP that will affect the government’s pandemic response.
Risk allowance for health workers
Duterte’s proposed budget plan increased the funding for the Department of Health (DOH), from P134.9 billion in 2021 to P157.5 billion. However, this does not include funds for health workers’ benefits, such as the special risk allowance (SRA), hazard pay, and allowances for meals, accommodations, and transportation (MAT).
The DOH said that it needs about P50.4 billion to cover health workers’ SRA, hazard pay, MAT allowances, and life insurance. This does not yet include the promised compensation for workers who may contract COVID-19 or die due to the disease.
The budget cut comes amid the protests of healthcare workers to demand the release of their long-overdue benefits.
Funding for public hospitals
Multiple public hospitals nationwide are also facing budget cuts in personnel service (PS), which covers salaries and other compensation of personnel, and in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
On Wednesday, September 15, the Alliance of Health Workers named at least five public hospitals whose budgets were slashed in the 2022 NEP. It said that the Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila is facing a cut amounting to P7.56 billion in PS.
Regional hospitals are also seeing millions of budget cuts in their MOOEs: P10.475 million in Batanes General Hospital, P67.3 million in Region II Trauma and Medical Center, P90 million in Bicol Region General Hospital, and P28.2 million in Mindanao Central Sanitarium in Zamboanga Peninsula.
The Philippine Collegian, the University of the Philippines’ (UP) official student publication, also pointed out that the Philippine General Hospital sources its funds from the budget allocated to the UP System. The 2022 NEP allocated P20.1 billion for the state university, down from the P21.5-billion budget it received in 2021.
Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM)
The country’s main testing center for COVID-19 is also facing a P170-million budget cut in the 2022 NEP. This amount is supposed to fund the agency’s national reference laboratories.
The RITM was only allocated P223 million under the 2022 NEP. It received P393 million in 2021.
To make the 2022 elections “COVID-proof,” the Commission on Elections (Comelec) requested a P42-billion budget for next year. Under the 2022 NEP, however, the Duterte government only proposed P26.5 billion.
Out of this, P13.6 billion is allocated specifically for the 2022 elections. This is also lower than Comelec’s request amounting to P21.66 billion.
The poll body said this is a “deep cut” in the proposed budget that will “significantly impact how the Comelec will conduct the 2022 national and local elections.”
Vaccine booster shots
The 2022 NEP earmarked P45 billion for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, but there’s a catch: this is lodged under unprogrammed appropriations. This means that this fund can only be tapped when revenues exceed targets or if there are grants.
Rappler columnists and economists JC Punongbayan, Zy-za Suzara, and Luis Abad earlier pointed out that this could have been made a regular line item in the proposed budget since booster shots may be needed next year.
“Since this was lodged under unprogrammed allocations, the additional vaccine shots will not be funded by the government until it loans again,” the three said in Filipino. – Rappler.com