Prioritize health in post-‘Yolanda’ restoration
Five years ago the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) realized the need to increase the national budget for health. As one of the resource persons in the hearing in the House of Representatives at that time, I pleaded that the budget for the Department of Health be supplemented to meet the demands of healthcare. My observations were that the allocation for the health department was only 1 percent of the national budget, one of the lowest if not the smallest in the civilized world. The more this figure appeared miniscule when it had to be shared with local government units. With such “precarious” resources, the health secretary had to resort to heroic measures to carry out its compromised ministries. Roughly, the health allowance per person was only the price of one or two packs of cigarettes then.
When I was in Germany, I learned that in Scandinavian countries, their health budget was 6-7 percent of the national budget. It was 4 percent in the United States and in countries with subsidized healthcare. Back home, the PMA told Speaker Jose de Venecia about this, and in his keynote address he promised that during his term the health budget will rise to 4 percent of the gross national product.
In a Senate hearing presided over by Sen. Loren Legarda, she said she was working for expanded funds for health. And Sen. Pia Cayetano assured me that the Senate repeatedly moved for increased budgetary allowance for health, but these moves would fizzle out once the ball reached Malacañang, so to speak. The favorite alibi was “lack of funds.”
I therefore could not believe when the Inquirer (the doctors’ favorite newspaper) reported that there were P14.6 billion unused Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2013 in spite of the P10 billion in pork barrel funds spirited away by public officials in high places (Front Page, 11/20/13). Such huge capital would have constructed additional hospitals and healthcare facilities in the currently unserved marginalized regions in the Visayas and Mindanao and would have hired the 6,000-8,000 physicians needed by the DOH.
Lessons learned indicated that all together the PDAF, the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the revenues from the Malampaya Fund, Pagcor, as well as the sin taxes, all in all would be enough to reverse the sad reality of millions of people dying without healthcare attendance.
We therefore insist and persist in our demand for bigger government subsidies for healthcare particularly for the poor, if only to demonstrate how much we value—and care for—human life and welfare. Then there would be no need for authorities to shed crocodile tears every time they see the misery of death caused by the “lack of funds” for medical care.
To be sure, government will accelerate the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” It should bear in mind that restoration of health and promotion of life must take precedence in such efforts.
—SANTIAGO A. DEL ROSARIO,
Philippine Medical Association
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