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Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said the government cannot afford to operate with a reenacted budget next year while there is still an ongoing pandemic, referring to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Go, also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said he also fully supports the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Health (DOH).

“Now, more than ever, we need to focus our spending on health. With this considered, we cannot afford to have a reenacted budget next year. Hindi po talaga puwede (that cannot be allowed). We cannot just operate on a budget next fiscal year that is unresponsive to our current crisis,” Go said during a public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Finance on Friday.

Go said he also supports the provision of sufficient funds for the DOH as it has been the forefront agency in the country’s battle against Covid-19.

“As Chairman of the Committee on Health, I have thoroughly reviewed the proposed budget for health. Thus, I emphasize that we must ensure that we have enough budget for the procurement of PPEs (personal protective equipment), masks and Covid-19 test kits, enough for the appropriate compensation of our health workers at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19 and enough to further augment the operation of our government hospitals,” he said.

Go, however, lamented the decrease in the budget for the Epidemiology and Surveillance, and Quick Response Fund of the DoH, especially with the current health crisis.

“The decreases in the budget are lamentable considering that these two line items are used in our response to the pandemic,” he said.

“One is for accurate and timely health information, and the other is for health emergency response. I call on the committee to look into this matter at tututukan rin po natin ito (and keep a watch on this),” he added.

He also urged the committee to find ways to ensure sufficient funding for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) of the DOH as it is needed, especially this pandemic.

“I also observed that the programmed budget for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program will decrease to P4.8 billion next year from P8.4 billion this year. The programmed appropriations will just be for equipment. Although there is another P5.5 billion for infrastructure, this is lodged under the Unprogrammed Fund, ibig sabihin wala pa pong pondo (this means it has no funds),” Go noted.

“The funding for this should not be on standby. These infrastructure projects should be prioritized. We should find a way to ensure that the funding for our health facilities, kailangan natin ‘yan ngayong pandemya para siguradong may sapat na kapasidad ang tatakbuhang ospital ng ating mga kababayan (we need those during this pandemic so we can assure hospitals will have adequate capacity for our countrymen),” he added.

Go’s statements came amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for Congress on Friday to hold sessions from October 13 to 16 to assure the passage and approval of the proposed P4.56-trillion budget for 2021.

Failure of Congress to approve the budget on time could result in the government functioning on a reenacted or an allocation of P4.1 trillion, which is this year’s allocation. This would hamper the government’s efforts to revive the Philippine economy take took a beating from the Covid-19 pandemic, proof of which is the 16.5-percent contraction of country’s gross domestic product in the second quarter of this year.

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