Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health, emphasized in an interview on Tuesday the urgent need to bolster the Department of Health’s (DOH) budget as the country navigates towards pandemic recovery, even amid several existing and emerging public health concerns.
“Gaya ng sinabi ko noon, full support ako sa DOH kung ano ang makakatulong sa ating health-care system,” said Go.
He recalled the budget deliberations in December 2019 when there were attempts to cut the budget of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for year 2020.
“Nag-budget hearing noong December 2019, tinapyasan ang proposed budget sa RITM at DOH, di po ako pumayag noon. Dinagdagan pa natin at ibinalik natin ang pondo,” he narrated.
This decision turned out to be crucial then, as RITM later played a vital role in Covid-19 testing when the pandemic started in 2020. Go noted that the restoration of RITM’s budget underscored the importance of adequately funding health-care institutions, especially in unpredictable times.
Go’s recollection came at a critical time when DOH is facing a P10-billion budget cut for 2024. The proposed budget cut would bring DOH’s overall budget down to P199.45 billion from P209.62 billion under the General Appropriations Act of 2023.
With this, Go argued that the health-care system needs more, not less, financial support. He then underscored the urgency for increased investment in the public healthcare system.
“The more we should invest sa ating healthcare system, dagdagan ang pondo,” Go reiterated.
“Para sa akin po, dapat suportahan natin na dagdagan ang pondo ng DOH. ‘Wag pong bawasan, dagdagan pa po,” he stated further.
Go emphasized that the funds should be used wisely to benefit patients particularly the less fortunate.
Go said that those who are wealthy have the option to seek medical care in private hospitals, while the less fortunate are left with no other choice but to rely on public health-care facilities that rely on government funding.
“Ito pong mga helpless, mga hopeless nating kababayan, sila ang unahin natin. ‘Yung mayayaman naman po, di pupunta sa public hospitals ‘yan,” he said.
During the Commission on Appointments hearing on the ad interim appointment of Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa, which Go presided on early that day, the senator also appealed to DOH to ensure that poor and indigent patients are given utmost attention in public hospitals.
Go cited a recent department memorandum signed by Herbosa instructing medical center chiefs to ensure that all patients must be accorded with the available services in Malasakit Centers.
The Malasakit Center serves as a one-stop shop aimed at helping particularly poor and indigent patients minimize their medical expenses to the lowest amount possible by collaborating with various agencies offering medical assistance programs. This initiative was institutionalized under Republic Act No. 11463, a law principally authored and sponsored by Go in the Senate.
Presently, there are 159 Malasakit Centers spread across the country, and they have collectively provided support to more than seven million Filipinos, as reported by DOH.