People have been asking me how I rate the present administration with regard to its healthcare accomplishments. I think it cannot be denied that despite some shortcomings in addressing the other major issues in delivering basic services to the public, the healthcare gains achieved by the current administration are worthy of commendation, and considerably more than what was achieved in previous administrations.
Though a truly universal health coverage remains a vision, it has somehow taken more definitive form in the last three years, with at least 80 percent of the population—particularly the marginalized sectors—already covered by our national health insurance system PhilHealth.
However, unless we can sustain these gains, the healthcare foundation in the country, which is not that strong yet, could easily tumble back to where it was before. Undoubtedly a unified collaboration of all government agencies and its various branches is necessary to sustain whatever momentum which has been generated in the last several years.
The budgetary cut made on the 2016 allocation for the government’s Family Health and Responsible Parenting program seems to be one example of instances when the whole-of-government collaboration is not working as it should, which can be a major threat to an effective and sustained healthcare delivery in the country. Members of the Senate committee on finance, chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda, may not realize it, but they just dealt the reproductive health program a deadly “cut.”
This “wound” came in the form of a severe budgetary cut which translates to P1 billion less funds to purchase contraceptives such as condoms, pills and intrauterine devices.
Understandably health advocates, especially the principal proponents of the Reproductive Health (RH) law, are fuming in disbelief and protesting the huge budgetary cut approved by Senator Legarda, who was supposed to be one of the supporters of the RH law when it was still struggling to be passed.
“The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of reproductive health services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die. The enemies of reproductive health never sleep. We, too, must not rest in fighting for women’s health,” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said. Sen. Pia Cayetano also called the drastic budgetary cut totally unacceptable.
The Senate’s finance committee and bicameral committee (bicam) justified their decision by citing the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on June 17 last year, which banned temporarily the “procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing and administering, advertising and promoting” of contraceptive implants due to their alleged “abortifacient side effects.” This TRO came a year after the High Court declared the RH law as “not unconstitutional.”
With the P1-billion cut, the bicam is presuming that the SC’s TRO “temporarily” banning contraceptive implants and devices is already final and executory. Should the high court finally decide to lift the TRO within the year, then allocated funds would be inadequate to purchase the needed contraceptives.
Senator Legarda rationalized the cut by explaining that should the Department of Health need more funds for contraceptives this year, they can just tap their savings from the 2015 budget, a big chunk of which remained unused following the SC TRO.
This is easier said than done, and may put the DOH in a bind later on. We could understand the concern of Health Secretary Janette Garin that since they’re now following a line-item budget, savings cannot be used for other purposes.
She and her staff may be charged with technical malversation later on, similar to the issue of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, wherein President Aquino utilized savings and new additional funds for programs that could stimulate economic growth. The SC has ruled this as unconstitutional.
It’s been more than three years since the RH law was passed. It remains limping and could hardly make any forward movement simply because people who are supposed to uphold it are not giving it the support they’re supposed to and are in a position to give.
Meanwhile, mothers and infants continue to die in alarming numbers. The moment our legislators and public officials can consistently walk their talk, we’ll start to get things done and sustain them in our country.