By Russell Louis C. Ku 

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) said on Thursday that a P50.4 billion in its 2022 budget supposedly allotted for healthcare workers’ allowances and other benefits was slashed by the executive department.   

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III revealed in a House budget hearing that the DoH originally proposed a P73.99 billion fund for next year to the Department of Budget and Management.  

The original proposal included P50.41 billion for the special risk allowance, meals and transportation allowance, and life insurance for medical frontliners. 

Mr. Duque made the disclosure after Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo questioned the Health department on why only P19.67 billion was allotted for pandemic response in the 2022 National Expenditure Program.    

She said that amount is too small for the pandemic response, citing that the national government allotted a total of P160.97 billion to the Health department from this year’s budget and the Bayanihan I and II, the two laws passed for coronavirus response and stimulus funds. 

In a separate hearing Wednesday, Mr. Duque also admitted that the DoH does not have any budget allotted next year for allowances to healthcare workers.   

He said the budget for special risk allowances were placed under Bayanihan III which is still pending approval at the Senate.    

Healthcare workers have been demanding for the immediate release of their hazard pay and special risk allowances, with some groups staging protest actions beginning this week.    

Mr. Duque said this is currently being addressed by the Health department.   

“P311 million was already obligated last week for 20,000 healthcare workers, mostly from the private sector. We also followed up for (the payments) of 17,000 more for a budget requirement of P201 million. We also requested to DBM for P13.2 billion for the meals, accommodation, and transportation benefits due to our healthcare workers,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.   

He also said that DoH will also provide lawmakers a copy of the initial P73.99-billion proposed budget for pandemic response for consideration of additional budget for these allowances.   

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez also asked Mr. Duque whether they have plans to transfer funds from next year’s budget allocated for protective equipment and COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) testing to the Budget department’s procurement service (PS-DBM).   

State auditors found that in 2020, DoH transferred P42 billion to implementing agencies, including the PS-DBM, without any memorandum of agreement and other supporting documents.   

Mr. Duque said they would no longer transfer funds to the PS-DBM.   

“The situation has changed in a sense that we can now do the bids and awards. We have our own committee and we will be able to maximize this capacity. Although it’s still limited because the work of our officials as members of the bids and awards committee is an added work,” he said.