Bong Go: enhancing public healthcare must be prioritized in 2021 budget to ensure sustainability of public services amid COVID-19

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go highlighted the need to invest in the country’s health sector amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

During the Development Budget Coordinating Council Briefing last Thursday, September 10, Go said that “perennial gaps in the system have been exposed especially in the health sector” by the crisis that must be addressed in the 2021 national budget.

“The coronavirus disease has considerably put us a step back, but as we withstand this crisis, we must rebuild our lives. As mentioned in the President’s budget message, we need to reset, rebound, and recover,” Go said.

“I want to reiterate that we must learn from this experience. More than ever, the need to invest in healthcare is highlighted. We have to be pro-active and there is a need to revisit our policies and recalibrate our priorities in this new normal,” he added.

Go emphasized that the budget for 2021 must respond not only to the country’s goal to overcome the pandemic, but also to be more prepared for, and more responsive to any other health crisis that may come the country’s way.

“Bigyan po natin ang ating mga kababayan ng bagong pag-asa at mas maayos na kinabukasan,” Go quipped.

Go then vowed to fight for the sustainable implementation of the Universal Health Care Law, saying “President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care Law, a landmark legislation that will give all Filipinos guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable healthcare goods and services.”

“While there are concerns surrounding the implementation of the law amid the pandemic, I vow to fight for its continuous implementation. Napaka-importante ng kalusugan. Prayoridad natin ‘yan ngayon lalo na sa pandemic na ito,” he added.

During the deliberations, Go asked how much of the 2021 budget will be allotted for health and the implementation of UHC.

“How much of the budget will be needed? Magkano po kailangan para ma-fully implement ang ating Universal Health Care apart from 71.4 allotted to PhilHealth?” the Senator asked.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado responded, saying that the Department of Health and the PhilHealth need to be consulted to determine the recommended additional amount needed to fully implement the UHC Law.

The Senator then asked how much budget has been allotted for the procurement of PPEs for the safety of the country’s health workers and the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine once available.

“How many can we vaccinate at pwede bang unahin natin ‘yung mga vulnerable at mahihirap na wala pong access sa vaccine at ‘yung mga taong pinipilit nating lumabas at mag-trabaho po?” Go added.

Avisado responded, saying that the budget allotted for procurement of PPEs is around PhP2.6 billion.

Meanwhile, the initial allocation for the vaccine is around PhP2.5 billion to immunize about 3.8 million poor Filipinos.

“There’s also another 10 billion at the moment provided under Bayanihan 2 for COVID 19 medication and vaccine under the standby fund of Bayanihan 2 and an additional 1.3 billion is appropriated under the 2021 NEP or the procurement of RTCPR cartridges to be used for fast accurate testing of COVID-19,” Avisado added.

Meanwhile, Go sought clarification in regard to the budget of DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) that reflected a decrease from PhP8.4 billion to PhP2.7 billion.

Avisado clarified that the total budget for the program in 2021 is actually PhP11.6 billion if the PhP5.5 billion in the Unprogrammed Fund is included.

“Naka-lodge po ‘yan sa –ang 4.7 po nasa regular ‘yan, ang 5.52 nasa unprogrammed po ‘yan kaya ang total niya ay 11.6 billion. Kaya po hindi lang po 4.7 po ‘yan, mayroon pang 5.2 pero naka-lodge po yan sa unprogrammed fund,” Avisado responded.

The Senator then expressed his support to shifting priorities and realigning spending policies to focus on containing the spread and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, funding the procurement or production of vaccines; restarting the economy to create jobs and attract investments; and alleviate our poverty.

Ending his statement, Go expressed the need to look into the country’s future and ensure sustainability of services for all Filipinos, especially the poor and vulnerable sectors. “As we move forward, we need to make long-lasting plans not only for our recovery but also for our sustainable future,” he said.