Only a measly P2 million out of the P196-million budget sought by the Department of Health was allocated to build sanitary toilets under Environmental and Occupational Health is not enough to address open defecation.
Speaking before the Senate subcommittee hearing on the proposed P160.15-billion budget of the DOH, Health Usec. Myrna Cabotaje said the department asked for such amount, but “for this purpose, only P2 million was given to them.”
Senator Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on environment, aired her disappointment over the small budget allocated by the DOH to address open defecation.
“By estimation, given that there is at least 3.5-million Filipinos practicing open defecation in Metro Manila, there are at least 700,000 households needing adequate sanitary toilet facilities,” said Villar.
“Assuming we put the cost at a minimum of P1,000 per person, we will need a total of P3.5 billion for a period of 10 years if we are to achieve the target to end open defecation by 2030 in Metro Manila alone,” added Villar.
During the budget hearing, Villar also shared her frustration over the delay in the construction of toilets in Bgy. 649, Baseco Compound in Tondo, which only succeeded to build 500 toilets in the period of three years.
As one of the densely populated barangays in Manila, Barangay 649 has a total population of 43,000. Of the 8,000 households, 80 percent have no access to a sanitary toilet facility.
To directly address these problems, Villar asked DOH and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to act, which prompted the selection of the area as one of the recipients of the Environmental and Sanitation Project of Provision of Communal Public Toilets in 2016.
“President Duterte created a task force to clean and rehabilitate Manila Bay. If we cannot solve the problem of open defecation in Metro Manila, we all know that the waste of 3.5-million residents will end up in Manila Bay,” she said.
“That is why I am asking you, are you really serious in your promise to end open defecation by 2030?,” Villar asked DOH officials.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque supported Villar’s statement that there is a need to hasten the construction of toilet facilities in Baseco.
Villar also suggested to give the money to another government agency that will be more capable of finishing the toilet project in Baseco.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, chairman of the Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Finance, raised concerns on the budget for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law, saying that it might not be enough to cover all expenditures under the said law.
Health officials admitted that “with the 67 billion, the department will not be able to execute the full intent of the UHC as the budget approved is lower than what is proposed.”
DOH appealed for help from the senators to increase the budget for the program.
“With the implementation of the Universal Health Care [UHC] Law, we need to ensure that our hospitals are properly equipped, and we should aim to have more barangay health stations and rural health units.”
Noting that the program’s low disbursement and utilization rates urged DBM to decrease its budget, Go asked if the DOH has already implemented improvements in terms of its disbursements.
“The reason why DBM submitted a very low budget for HFEP is DOH’s low disbursement and utilization rate, meaning most projects are not completed. Did the DOH improve now in terms of disbursement? What is your obligation and disbursement rate for the HFEP budget this year?” Go asked
Go urged the Department of Budget and Management to sit down with the DOH and PhilHealth to discuss the deficit.
He also expressed concern on the need to allocate enough budget based on bed capacities of public hospitals around the country.
He cited the proposed budget for Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City as an example wherein a public hospital with high bed capacity is given minimal increase in their budget.
“VSMMC has the largest bed capacity among DOH hospitals in Region VII with 1,200 beds but was only allocated an increase of 3.85 percent in the 2020 budget. While other hospitals with lower bed capacities were allocated with high increases in their budget,” Go said.
He added, “What formula guided the DOH in arriving at the proposed 2020 budget for the operation of VSMMC and other DOH hospitals?”