Editorial: Government as a slasher movie

How can one come around to understanding a huge budget cut for anything concerning public health in pandemic time? The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s capital laboratory for Covid-19, faces a budget cut of P170 million in the government’s proposed 2022 budget. RITM Director Celia Carlos, during the House budget hearing, said the cut hits the agency’s item for national reference laboratories.

Reason for the cut? As a policy, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reviews an agency’s “absorptive capacity” or how it can fully dispose of its annual budget. As the Commission on Audit finds that the Department of Health had P67 billion in unused and misspent funds in 2020, the latter now has to bear the brunt for precisely that failure. Worse, irony hits home with the untimely misfortune that the thousands of medical frontlines have not received their Covid-19 special risk allowance (SRA) and host of other promised benefits. Standing policy says only health workers directly serving the pandemic are entitled to receive the SRA, something that creates a “gray area,” said Health Sec. Francisco Duque III.

Yesterday, Sept, 6, 2021, health care workers in Metro Manila staged a protest infront of the DOH, some 16 days since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the DBM and DOH to release the SRA in 10 days.

While at it, the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. fiasco reveals a grim yarn of shady deals and characters—all of nine contracts amounting to P7.49 billion in overpriced masks, personal protective equipment, etc.

All these create a contemptible Gestalt of how public health gets slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb in the name of corruption—and corruption in its most abominable form.

We hope that the ire extends from a select sector of critical citizens to more communities at large, to the point that it becomes popular discussion as we reel towards the election year.

World anti-graft agencies have established time and again that weak health care systems are a symptom of a corrupt government. There is less investment in public health in countries with corrupt leaders.

Close to home, we hope more critical citizens get to pry and hold accountable local governments that are not investing in public health at this time of the pandemic. It is time to check on how much funds have been poured into our health care system.

We should take cue from the national situation of having to fight against budget cuts on public health.