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Health budget boost pressed

IN light of COVID-19, The House of Representatives is urgently calling for additional funding to improve the quality of public healthcare in the country.

As a solution, Congressmen and members of the House Health Committee Eric Pineda, Mikee Romero, and Virgilio Lacson recently filed House Bill No. 7800, which recommends the amendment of Presidential Decree No. 910 to allow Congress to redirect a portion of the Malampaya funds and other similar oil exploration projects to upgrade healthcare in the Philippines.

The Duterte Administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda has identified PPPs as one of the key strategies to accelerate infrastructure development. The House Bill specifically cites the Malampaya project because of its impressive track record, which shows that similar oil exploration efforts can fund the Philippines’ healthcare industry.

“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,” said Congressman Pineda from the 1Pacman Partylist and Chairman of the Committee on Labor & Employment.

He added, “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.”

At present, Malampaya supplies up to 30% of Luzon’s energy requirements. It also helps reduce the country’s oil imports, ensure a steady and cleaner reservoir of power, and provide a scale of remittance that ranges from $800 million to $1.1 billion annually. However, the clock is ticking on Malampaya, as its license to operate is set to end in 2023. Senator Pineda added, “We have millions worth of funds untapped from Malampaya. We need to amend P.D. No. 910 now because we only have two more years to utilize its fund.”

Finding additional avenues to boost the Philippines’ health budget is of national urgency, given the challenges that the health sector continues to face.

The pandemic has made it clear that we can no longer wait to improve our public health infrastructure. Currently, COVID-related government debt has neared P9 trillion since June. It will be harder to recover economically if we keep relying on loans,” explained Congressman Romero from the 1-Pacman Partylist.

“P.D. No. 910. was made for the purpose of utilizing energy exploration and development for the country’s economic gain. That’s exactly what we need at the moment of this pandemic, but it can be a viable solution for the long-term too.”

Following Malampaya’s success in maximizing the country’s indigenous oil sources, Congress continues to underline the need to have similar exploration endeavors. Congressman Lacson from the Manila Teachers Partylist and Chairman of the Committee on Micro, Small & Medium Enterprise Development said, “The Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) is continuing their exploration in the West Philippine Sea, which proves that we have enough oil resources to use—not just for our power needs, but to fund the nation’s future.”

According to the World Health Organization, it is highly likely that the global health crisis will be present for years to come. As such, it is crucial that countries are equipped to hold the line for a prolonged period of time, making a stronger, more equipped healthcare system a vital necessity. The country’s own oil and gas resources may be the key.

“Technology in exploration has developed over the years, and Malampaya could be extended depending on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision. It is up to the DOE to support additional exploration efforts too,” Congressman Lacson asserted. “If so, then it would be a great help to our fight against the pandemic and can help develop a good health system.”