The P294-million remaining budget of the Department of Health (DoH) for the last quarter of 2006 will be of great use, but unfortunately not to the health department and its services. Despite the intractable logistical matters and the great need for resources that have been festering our public healthcare system, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) decided not to release the DoH funds.
BY PHILIP PARAAN
Contributed to Bulatlat
The P294-million ($6.15 million based on a $1:P48.78 exchange rate) remaining budget of the Department of Health (DoH) for the last quarter of 2006 will be of great use, but unfortunately not to the health department and its services.
Despite the intractable logistical matters and the great need for resources that have been festering our public healthcare system, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) decided not to release the DoH funds.
This was revealed during a picket–dialogue between the protesting health workers last Jan. 29, which coincides with the deadline set by the DBM for all budget requests before all of last year’s undisbursed appropriations goes back to the national treasury.
To the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), a national organization of hospital workers’ unions, this is a case of DoH and DBM courting contempt of the government’s own fiscal rules, referring to the fact that legislated budget cannot just be withheld or diverted to any other use.
According to the DoH, it did however filed a request to the DBM to obtain the funds earlier last year and exhausted all procedural means to get hold of its last quarter budget.
But health workers now ask, “Where is the money?” Health workers were prompted to take action regarding the missing budget not only because of the failure of the DoH to provide work enhancement benefits, but, more importantly, the amount could have been useful to health services, programs and other operations where it is rightfully intended.
Unable to adequately explain why the last quarter budget of the health department was not released, the DoH officials, through Usec. Alexander Padilla of DoH’s Legal Department, points to the DBM, however questionable and arbitrary the basis were for the denial of the funds. The budget department claims that the health sector had enough savings for the year (2006) considering that it was still able to provide work enhancement benefits to its hospital workers.
DoH Department Order No.2006-0067 or the DoH Work Enhancement Benefit (WEB), which the DBM said was one of the reasons the last quarter budget was withheld, stipulated that each DoH employee was to receive P10,000 ($205) as Christmas bonus, supposed to be paid in two installments in December 22 and 29 of last year. The WEB, according to the order, would come from the current allotment and savings of government hospitals from its cost-cutting schemes. It was not allotted from the budget or savings of the DoH.
“The WEB is double-standard and deceitful because most hospitals are overdraft and under budgeted,” said Emma Manuel, president of the AHW in an earlier interview. Furthermore, Manuel asserts that health services cannot be subject to cost-cutting schemes considering that it is already under funded and grossly inadequate.
Among the major government hospitals in Metro Manila, hospital personnel from the Tondo Medical Center, Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine did not receive anything, while those from the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital, and the National Center for Mental Health received partial payments ranging from P2,000 ($41) to P5,000 ($102.50).
While DoH officials complain that this is an obvious case of infringement of official functions between the two departments, the DoH further criticized the DBM for interfering with its program implementation. Skeptical health workers however believe that there is a seeming collusion between the two departments.
Meanwhile sources within the health department say that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has promised to fund the rehabilitation of some districts hospitals in the country as part of her commitment to local government units. If this is so, the government would be contravening the principle and operation of devolution. Since the devolution, maintenance of local health facilities, including provincial and district hospitals no longer becomes a DoH concern but that of the local governments.
For the AHW, this episode reminds them of how in the election of 2004 funds from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) were diverted to fund the distribution of free Philhealth cards, a project current Health Secretary Francisco Duque implemented himself when he was still Philhealth president, to boost GMA’s election campaign.