AS healthcare workers continue to fight a tough battle against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), three lawmakers have filed a bill seeking to provide additional sources of funds to enhance the country’s pandemic response and improve the quality of public healthcare.
Based on predictions by the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a strong possibility that the pandemic will continue for a prolonged period. Consequently, it is critical that countries and governments have the means to respond to this global health crisis.
To address this, three members of the House committee on health, namely Reps. Eric Pineda and Mikee Rimero of 1-PACMAN party-list and Virgilio Lacson of Manila Teachers party-list filed House Bill (HB) 800, which calls for the immediate amendment of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 910 to enable Congress to allot a portion of the Malampaya funds and other similar Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to improve the state of public healthcare in the Philippines.
Pineda and Lacson discussed this pressing matter during Wednesday’s virtual Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel entitled ‘Funding the PH Healthcare System Amid COVID.’
“There are many inadequacies in our healthcare sector, especially when it comes to facilities. We feel the effects especially in provincial regions that have limited hospitals and testing laboratories,” Health (DoH) Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said. “With this bill, we can increase our budget and put up more facilities. It can fill critical gaps in the system.”
No other event has possibly pushed the limits of the local healthcare system than COVID-19.
Members of the House who attended the virtual event also pointed out that the local healthcare sector has been long overdue for a boost in financial support.
Lacson, chairman of the House committee on micro, small & medium enterprise development said, “We recognize the current need to develop a resilient healthcare system. This pandemic should be a lesson learned to prioritize healthcare.”
He asserted how funds from Malampaya can assist many other Filipinos who are struggling with medical conditions, “We have untapped funds from Malampaya worth PHP23 million. If we can amend P.D. 910, Malampaya can be a source for healthcare.”
PPPs like Malampaya are recognized as one of the key strategies to increase infrastructure development under the Duterte Administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
Malampaya, given its history and track record, proves the immense benefits of such partnerships in funding the nation’s development.
Beyond that, the project’s maximization of indigenous natural gas also shows that the country has enough resources to become a sustainable option for investments and income.
“The Philippines is very rich in natural resources. In fact, we have the biggest supply of natural gas all over the world. We have the Ligwasan Marsh in Maguindanao, and we also have a lot of natural gas in Sulu,” Pineda, chairman of the House committee on labor and employment, said. “That’s why projects like Malampaya are very important, while other developments take a back seat because of the pandemic. We need to save our countrymen first and have enough healthcare facilities for the infected. Developing more sources for natural gas can help.”
The bill further identifies several lapses in the local health infrastructure, specifically how hospitals have been unable to keep up with global health best practices.
Had hospitals been equipped with proper support to improve their facilities from the beginning, it is possible that more lives could have been saved and healthcare workers would not have been as overwhelmed with the influx of COVID patients.
There have been notable initiatives from the government in response to COVID, such as the Bayanihan One ‘To Heal As One’ and Bayanihan Two ‘To Recover As One’ acts. However, government debt has neared PHP9 trillion as of June, primarily due to pandemic-related loans.
Pineda added, “We have to look for alternative funds not from loans or the private sector. We know that Malampaya earns P1 billion for the government annually. Right now, the best way to use these funds is to improve healthcare facilities and support healthcare workers. While there’s no vaccine, we must act immediately.”
As the Malampaya project nears its end in 2023, Congress continues to emphasize the importance of its continuity and the continuity of similar exploration projects.
Lacson concurred, “Technology in exploration has developed over the years, and Malampaya could be extended depending on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision. If so, then it would be a great help to our fight against the pandemic and can help develop a good health system.”
According to Lacson and Pineda, amending P.D. 910 carries nationwide urgency to alleviate the Filipino people from the consequences of COVID, which affect their health, the economy, and their livelihoods.
“We need to invest in the health of the Filipino people. If we improve their health, we can grow our economy again,” said Congressman Lacson. “We are doing our best to have this bill approved immediately.”
Undersecretary Vergeire concluded, “We appreciate that this bill looks at our needs in the health sector and how to source funds to put up more infrastructure—not just in Metro Manila but other regions too. Hopefully it will be passed so we can continue improving our capacity and be better prepared for future health challenges.”