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Villafuerte hits failure to use P3B to procure PPEs

CAMARINES Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has described as “almost criminal negligence” the alleged failure of the Department of Health (DOH) officials to ensure the safety of the country’s medical workers after not spending its P3 billion budget for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Villafuerte upbraided DoH officials in virtually deserting the country’s health workers at the frontlines of the war against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) by failing to fully equip them with PPEs that are essential in their daily battle to save patients and their lives as well from the deadly coronavirus.

The failure of DoH executives to use the P3 billion allotted in Republic Act (RA) 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) for the acquisition of PPEs “smacks of criminal neglect,” said Villafuerte, as these health officials’ continuing inaction has put our medical frontliners at serious risk of infection, great harm and even death on a daily basis in the absence or shortage of such indispensable protection against the highly infectious pathogen.

Lawmakers saw it fit last year to include this P3-billion budget for the PPEs of healthcare workers in the Bayanihan 2 measure, he said, in anticipation of any possible scarcity in the supply of these all-important protective getups, such as what is happening now in the midst of what experts have called the “second wave’ of infections since the pandemic broke out in January last year.

“What makes this almost criminal negligence doubly infuriating is that P3 billion has been set aside in last year’s Bayanihan 2 for the purchase of PPEs for our medical frontliners, and yet DoH officials have chosen to take their own sweet time in buying such protective equipment that are so essential in our healthcare workers’ daily battle to save infected people and their lives as well,” Villafuerte said.

He pointed out that the government needs to provide our healthcare workers with a constant and adequate supply of PPEs for their own protection, especially at this time of a surge in COVID-19 infections, which has been traced in part to the advent of new, more transmissible variants of the virus.

For Villafuerte, “This seeming I-couldn’t-care-less mindset of our officials at the DOH is totally disgusting and betrays their apparent apathy towards our doctors, nurses and other hospital frontliners who risk their lives on a daily basis trying to save Filipinos from dying from COVID-19 that has already sickened almost 900,000 people in our country and killed over 15,400 of them,” Villafuerte said.

The principal author in the House of both Bayanihan 2 and RA 11469 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1), Villafuerte explained that Bayanihan 2 had allocated P3 billion for the purchase of PPEs, including medical gowns, N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves and shoe covers for the use of our healthcare workers.

Villafuerte said he was at a loss as to why DoH officials’ seem “bereft of any sense of urgency because the acquisition of PPEs was supposed to have been done in the latter part of 2020 yet, given that Bayanihan 2 was originally supposed to expire last December when the bicameral Congress took its annual yearend recess.”

Cristy Donguines, president of the Dr. Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC)’s Employees Union, and Benjamin Santos, a staff member at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), have been quoted in media reports as complaining about the supposed lack of PPEs.

Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) vice president Dr. Maricar Limpin, who works at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), was separately quoted in another report as expressing concern over the allegedly decreasing number of PPEs and the quality of some protective gear that are available.

“Meron pang available PPE, but of course, para sa amin nakikita naming na ang ibang PPE—siguro sabihin na natin na—hindi kami comfortable in really using kasi baka pati kami magkaroon ng infection,” Limpin was quoted as saying. “Sa iba, I heard, na nauubusan na rin sila sa ibang hospitals. I hope mabigyan ng pansin ang PPE na ito.”

The P3-billion allocation was supposed to have reverted to the National Treasury—and the DOH could no longer use the money to buy PPEs—when the Congress went on its Christmas break last December 18, but lawmakers decided to write a law (RA 11519) extending the validity of Bayanihan 2 funds until June 30, 2021, hence giving the DOH six more months to acquire the protective equipment.