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Budget priorities

The Filipino health care workers already up in arms over their long delayed benefits such as their special risk allowance (SRA) that has not yet been fully distributed by the Department of Health in the midst of a raging pandemic may have even more reason to complain following reports that they have been left out in the cold again as their SRA has been slashed by the Department of Budget and Management from next year’s proposed DOH budget.

At the House of Representatives budget hearing held last week, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH had initially proposed P73.99 billion in COVID-19 funds but the DBM rejected it, reducing the allocation for pandemic response to only P19.68 billion.

As a result, there are no funds allotted for healthcare workers’ SRA and other benefits in the proposed DOH budget for 2022.

Duque said the budget for health care workers’ SRA was lodged in the proposed P401 billion Bayanihan 3 bill the remains pending in the Senate but Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo pointed out that without an itemized allocation, the much-needed SRA depends on the General Appropriations Act.

Despite the pandemic having dragged on for almost 18 months, over 100,000 health care workers whose services are crucial during an extended health crisis have yet to receive their SRA.

With health care workers in both public and private hospitals already holding protesting actions to press government to release the SRA and other allowances due them by law, this inexplicable development does not bode well for any improvement in the country’s already much-maligned pandemic response.

It is said that an examination of the budget is the best way to determine a government’s priorities and based on this cut of the proposed DOH COVID response budget to a measly P19.68 billion from the proposed P73.99 billion, it is easy to conclude that our government that has failed to control the spread of the coronavirus ever since a pandemic was declared in March 2020 does not prioritize public health.

Will Secretary Duque and the DOH fight to keep their proposed budget so we can be better equipped to end this pandemic or have they already given up after failing so miserably and are leaving health care workers and Filipinos to fend for themselves in 2022?*

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