Senator Christopher “Bong” Go underscored the need to ensure that sufficient funding is available to sustain and further enhance efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed budget of the Department of Health for 2022 was deliberated on during a hearing by Finance Subcommittee “D” presided by Sen. Pia Cayetano on Wednesday, 13 October.
In his manifestation during the hearing, Go, who serves as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, particularly called for the inclusion of additional resources to ensure the continuous provision of allowances for the country’s healthcare workers (HCWs).
“Sa ating laban kontra COVID-19, isa sa pinaka-importante na dapat nating masigurado ay ang kapakanan ng ating healthcare workers. Sabi ko nga, hindi naman mababayaran ng kahit anuman ang buhay (nila), ngunit mahalaga ito bilang pagkilala sa sakripisyo ng ating mga healthcare workers para sa ating bayan,” he said.
Go reiterated his appeal for the passage of a measure he co-sponsored which provides for a fixed monthly allowance to HCWs throughout the duration of the current state of emergency.
Senate Bill No. 2421 takes into consideration an earlier bill that Go authored and provides a COVID-19 Risk Allowance in lieu of the special risk allowance, active hazard duty pay, life insurance, and other allowances granted under Bayanihan 2. All HCWs deployed in “low risk areas” will be given P3,000; those in “medium risk areas” will be given P6,000; those in “high risk areas” will be given P9,000.
“Sa ilalim ng panukalang ito, mas maraming healthcare workers na ang makakatanggap ng allowances. Hindi na limitado lamang sa mga directly exposed sa COVID-19 patients dahil nga hindi naman talaga natin alam kung sino ang exposed sa virus na ito. Hindi natin nakikita itong COVID-19, (kaya) kailangang maisama natin sa budget para dito,” appealed Go.
In line with this, Go also called for the adequate provision of funds for the implementation of a directive of President Rodrigo Duterte which increased the salary grade of Nurse II positions from SG 15 to SG 16.
“We do not want low morale among the ranks of our nurses. Nagsasakripisyo rin po ang mga ito. We should thus provide them with better pay,” he emphasized.
Given its crucial role in addressing the pandemic, Go likewise sought support for additional funds for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine which is the pioneer testing center in the country.
“We all know that the RITM was our primary testing center at the start of the pandemic. Naalala ko nga noong 2019 ‘yon pa ang binawasan at nagkataon ito pa ang isa sa pinakaimportanteng opisina ng DOH. Hindi natin akalain na ang RITM na po nauna na nakapag-conduct ng test,” he said.
He earlier fought for additional budget for RITM prior to the start of the pandemic to increase it to P223.8 million for 2020 and P393.8 million for 2021.
Go also called for greater budget allocations for the Epidemiology and Surveillance and the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response programs of the DOH as well as the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC), all of which are crucial to the government response to the pandemic and other infectious diseases.
“Ang OHCC (ang umaalalay) sa mga pasyente para malaman kung saan bang ospital ang may bakante pang kama. Sila ang isa sa pinaka-importanteng opisina ngayon na nagta-traffic ng lahat ‘dahil gusto ma-accommodate. Hindi na nila kailangan maghintay sa labas ng ospital dahil dito mas nagiging maayos ang referral ng mga pasyente,” he said.
The senator went on to note the P45.4 billion in the Unprogrammed Fund for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and requested that further assessments be made to ensure their efficient procurement as the DOH and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases study the possibility of giving booster shots to HCWs in the near future.
“Importanteng paghandaan na natin ito. Baka kailanganin natin ng booster lalo na dahil sa mga naglalabasang variants … Dapat din natin masiguro, Madam Chair, na may sapat na pondo para sa mga vaccinators dahil tuluy-tuloy ang pagbabakuna natin hanggang sa susunod na taon. Napansin ko na sa kalagitnaan ng taon naghanap pa sila ng pondo para dito,” he said.
On this note, the lawmaker reminded fellow lawmakers to further ensure that there is enough funding for hospitals and health facilities such as the Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine Heart Center, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine Children’s Medical Center and other major hospitals.
“Siguruhin din po natin na may sapat tayong pondo para sa pag-increase ng ating testing capacity at dapat may sapat ding pondo ang mga ospital para tugunan ang mga pangangailangan ng mga pasyente,” he said.
Go strongly reminded the DOH to keep working hard to help the nation overcome the ongoing crisis while ensuring that there are no irregularities in its transactions.
“Utilize your budget judiciously. Nagpapasalamat po ako sa inyong sakripisyo para sa bayan. Kayo ang frontline agency ngayong pandemya at alam kong pagod na pagod na rin kayo at nagkakasakit na rin ang iba sa inyo. Pero isipin po natin ang kapakanan ng ating mga kababayan,” said Go.
“Nakapag-sumite na ang DOH sa (Commission on Audit) ng kanilang Agency Action Plan and Status of Implementation. Kaya kung may kakulangan man, dapat iwasto agad at pagbutihin lalo ang trabaho,” he ended.