• P12-B slash in disease surveillance budget in the time of avian flu


    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly is still relevant today – even in the 21st century that is supposedly about innovation and forward-looking policies. Just look at how Mr. Aquino practiced a type of governance that is full of folly. Before the 2016 elections, he launched a full-scale assault on balikbayan boxes, contrary to the dictates of sane policy and the national consensus to support our heroic OFWs.

    Just look at his track record in vetoing any draft law for the underclass. A leader is the father to the nation’s citizens, the poor who need the most attention in particular. Mr. Aquino was painfully aware of that. Yet, he kept on thumbing down any and all policies that are for those who have less in life.

    Look at how he handled the Mamasapano massacre. First were acts of clownish cluelessness. Then, he snubbed the homecoming of the SAF 44 from the killing fields of Maguindanao.

    The Duterte administration is veering into that disastrous course, and important items in the 2018 national budget are testament to this path of folly. A lawmaker with the Makabayan bloc has exposed the details. In the 2018 budget, he claimed, the budget of the Department of Health (DOH), the agency that is as important – if not more important – than the Department of Education, will slash its vital MOOE budget by 99 percent in favor of lump sums, which the DU30 administration has condemned as “evil” and illegal.

    Why? Why?
    Those were the pained question from Mr. Tinio, the ACT party-list representative. Mr. Tinio did not provide the context but I now will. In this time of avian flu – with the Department of Agriculture fully engaged in easing the public health crisis by culling birds and moving on the biosecurity front – is probably the worst time to slash the MOOE allocation of the DOH, which is the specific fund that finances the department’s work on disease surveillance and battling outbreaks. But contrary to the dictates of sane policy, the 2018 national budget is moving into that dangerous and ill-advised direction.

    What if another pestilence deadlier than avian flu breaks out? Without a disease surveillance budget, it would be a full-blown horror before anything could be done in terms of mitigation measures.

    Again, in favor of the loathed lump sums.

    Here are the specific items exposed by Mr. Tinio:

    The budget for disease surveillance and epidemiology (an all-too important allocation as proven by the avian flu outbreak in my native province) will go down from the current allocation of P14.2 billion to P63.7 million next year, according to Mr. Tinio’s figures. I will repeat the drop: from more than P14 billion to P63.7 million. The figure of P63.7 million is a “keysa sa walang” (better-than-nothing) budget, a token thing.

    Without that important fund, the monitoring and defense against disease outbreaks would be like Mr. Trump’s imaginary, non-existent wall. Who will monitor possible public health crises? What resources will the DOH use in case of outbreaks?

    What other programs would suffer from the cuts? Many, and they are all vital to public health and disease prevention.

    According to Mr. Tinio, the following vital health programs will also suffer from massive and unexplained cuts: environmental and occupational health concerns (95 percent cut), noncommunicable disease prevention and control (82 percent cut), prevention and control of HIV and other waterborne diseases (14 percent cut), elimination of malaria and other public health threats (58 percent cut), and the MOOE of 66 regional and special hospitals, the budget for which would be slashed by 28 percent.

    We cannot forget the budget message of the 2018 proposed budget: reform and transform. Looking at the DOH budget in the time of an avian flu outbreak, we have the liberty to ask these questions: Reform what? Transform what?

    The public is totally clueless on what the lump sums proposed by Mr. Diokno, the budget secretary, in the 2018 budget contain, said Mr. Tinio.

    The avian flu outbreak should lead to a bipartisan, bicameral effort to correct the disastrous course being pursued by the DOH budget for next year. It is out of Mr. Duterte’s power now, with Congress about to start the deliberations on the proposed budget for 2018. Instead of the lump sums, specific, detailed items on disease surveillance, control and prevention should be underscored to dramatize their national importance.

    Public health and public safety are the binding themes of 99 percent of all government expenditures, including the budget for national defense. It is the same thrust of DU30’s all-out war on drugs. Slashing by 99 percent the vital public health expenditures violates every sacred principle of the state and the sworn obligations of the President.

    The other vexing issue raised by Mr. Tinio is this: What motivated a fierce critic of lump sums in the person of Mr. Diokno to favor lump sums now that he is the budget czar?

    Mr. Tinio does not know. Same here and 99 percent of all Filipinos who care about public health and welfare.

    One thing is sure. The lump sum policy of the DOH is contrary to sanity, logic and all the known standards and norms of governance.

    In the time of avian flu, it is a budget decision that easily fits the category of the March of Folly.


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