By Ben Rosario
Health and education, constant priorities in government budgeting, suffered huge slashes in the proposed 2019 national budget, prompting the House of Representatives and Malacañang to hold a discussion on how to reduce the cuts that may hurt programs of the two departments.
“Malalim ang cuts sa health. It is so deep that it hits a major artery of government service,” Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya said.
Andaya, who served as budget secretary under then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, revealed that the Department of Health’s (DOH’s) proposed allocation next year dropped to P74 billion or lower by P35 billion than its current budget P109 billion.
At the same time, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio revealed that the proposed allocation for Department of Education (DepEd) in 2019 is also lower than its current year budget.
Together with Rep. France Castro, Tinio chided the Duterte administration for the budget cuts in education, noting that government is not about to make good it promise to guarantee funding for social services programs coming from collections from the much-ballyhooed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN).
“In the midst of the onslaught of TRAIN that caused the record high 5.7% inflation rate, the proposed 2019 budget will have cuts in agencies providing frontline services for the people,” Tinio lamented.
Andaya said that there has been a virtual cancellation of the implementation of the Health Facilities Enhancement Program, with proposed allocation dropping to P100 million from the current P30.3 billion.
”Kung sinasabi ng both DOH and DBM na pause muna kami sa pag-implement ng HFEP kasi we’re suffering from budget indigestion at mahaba ang backlog, and most of these are infrastructure in nature, then we might buy their reasoning,” Andaya said.
Government’s decision to slash the DOH budget on HFEP was apparently triggered by a Commission on Audit (COA) report that revealed irregularities in the implementation of the program.
Aside from irregularities in the construction of health stations financed with an P8.13 allocation, the HFEP has also been plagued with low funding utilization issues, COA revealed.
Initiated under the Aquino administration, the HFEP is a multiyear program to improve health facilities such as hospitals and barangay health stations but was recently mired in controversies with regards to alleged irregularities in its implementation.
“But how about other needs of the DOH such as medicine, equipment, and other fast-moving expenditures? Baka ito ang pwedeng pamalit” Andaya said.
Andaya lamented that aside from lack of laboratory equipment and hospital beds, government hospitals also suffer from other medical facilities deficiencies such as rooms.