THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) could realign P4.23 billion in its proposed 2022 budget to buy booster shots of coronavirus vaccines, according to a congressman.   

Cebu Rep. Vincent Franco D. Frasco, sponsor of the DoH budget, said during a House budget plenary hearing Tuesday evening that the agency could reallocate funds from its budget on maintenance and other operating expenses and low-impact programs.  

The DoH included P45.3 billion in unprogrammed funds for booster shots under the 2022 National Expenditure Program, which means the budget will only be utilized if the government earns enough revenue for it.    

The country’s Vaccine Expert Panel has yet to give a recommendation on the use of booster shots and how many doses will have to be procured.  

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo suggested to consider realigning funds from programs with historically low utilization rates such as Health Systems Strengthening Program and Public Health Program.  

These programs in 2020 had a utilization rate from 40% to 65% but are proposed to get increases in next year’s budget.  

If realigned, the agency can generate P21.6 billion, according to the congresswoman.   

“Why do we force ourselves to increase programs that historically did not have their budgets fully utilized now that there is a pandemic and there are more urgent needs,” she said.    

Mr. Frasco explained that these programs had low utilization rates in 2020 due to restrictions brought by the pandemic.    

“The reason why they are still allocated with the same amount for next year is in the hope that there will be less restrictions with respect to COVID,” he said.   

Meanwhile, the DoH also requested for an additional P49 billion from Congress to fund benefits and other allowances of healthcare workers.  

Mr. Frasco said the agency would need a total of P51.2 billion for this. 

In a previous hearing, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the DoH has no allocation for healthcare worker allowances next year as it was slashed by the Department of Budget and Management.  

Ms. Quimbo also questioned the “low” utilization of the agency’s funds for this year.   

“We give a huge budget (to the DoH) because there is a big need for public health, but we see that there are still a huge chunk (of the budget) that is left unspent based on the financial reports,” she said in Filipino.  

She also pointed out undisbursed funds amounting to P37 billion and P59 billion in 2019 and 2020, respectively.   

The DoH has so far obligated P168.3 billion and disbursed P94.26 billion or 38.1% of the agency’s P246.9 billion budget for this year, according to Mr. Frasco.   

He said bulk of the disbursement would usually occur starting September to October of the year.    

The DoH has a proposed P242.2-billion budget for next year, of which P19.67 billion is allotted specifically for pandemic response. — Russell Louis C. Ku 

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