Support for the health sector, as it continues to address the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, accounts for the biggest share of the pie in the soon to be enacted Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
Senate Committee on Finance chairman Sonny Angara explained that Bayanihan 2 was crafted primarily to ensure continuity in the government’s response to the pandemic so it was only natural for the health sector to receive a significant amount of funding.
While the capital infusion for government financial institutions receives a bigger amount at close to P55 billion, health gets the most funding for a single sector.
Total funding for Bayanihan 2 amounts to P165.5 billion, out of which P140 billion represents regular appropriations, and P25.5 billion are standby funds.
Angara, who led the Senate panel in the bicameral conference committee meetings for Bayanihan 2, noted that around P40.5 billion would go to health-related programs.
This includes P13.5 billion for the continuous employment and hiring of emergency human resource for health (HRH); augmentation for operations of DOH hospitals; special risk allowance for public and private health workers; free life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals for health workers; and compensation for health workers who contract COVID-19 or die while fighting the pandemic.
The Department of Health (DOH) noted that it needed to hire more HRH to expand the government’s response to the pandemic, particularly in the regions, provinces and cities that manage COVID-19 cases.
As of June 2020, the DOH said that around 5,100 health personnel have been recruited through emergency hiring. To meet the projected requirements for the COVID-19 response, the DOH said it needed to hire 4,200 more health personnel.
“The hiring of additional health personnel, as well as the special risk allowance and benefits for our health workers, were promised by President Duterte and these are all reflected in Bayanihan 2. Our health system is under so much pressure already and we need to recognize all of the sacrifices our health workers are making at this very challenging time,” Angara said.
The compensation given to health workers who contract severe COVID-19 (P100,000 each) and those who die while fighting the disease (P1 million each) under Bayanihan 1 will be continued in Bayanihan 2 but in addition to this, P15,000 would be provided for those who have mild or moderate cases.
A total of P3 billion is provided in Bayanihan 2 for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gowns, shoe covers, and face shields for distribution to health workers, barangay personnel and other indigent persons who could not afford to purchase these.
To provide support to local industries, the bill states that preference should be given to PPEs made in the Philippines.
For the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, field hospitals, dormitories for frontliners and for the expansion of hospital capacity across the country, a total of P4.5 billion is allocated in the measure.
This includes funding support for the repair and upgrading of the existing biosafety laboratory of the Bureau of Quarantine and the renovation of its temporary quarantine facility.
Another P4.5 billion is allocated for the construction and maintenance of isolation facilities, including the billing of hotels, food and transportation used for the COVID-19 response.
For the hiring of at least 50,000 contact tracers by the Department of Interior and Local Government, a total of P5 billion is also provided in the bill.
“We have heard from the different members of the IATF that we still need more contact tracers, and isolation and quarantine facilities. We need to take a holistic approach in battling COVID-19. Hindi pwedeng nagtetest ka lang tapos wala kang contact tracing, isolation at quarantine. All of these components are crucial,” Angara said.
He said that strengthening these become even more important now when the economy is being opened up already and more people start to go out of their homes.
For COVID-19 testing and the procurement of medication and vaccines, a total of P10 billion is lodged under the standby fund.
A special provision on the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available is also included in Bayanihan 2.
To help facilitate the Philippines’ future purchase of a vaccine for COVID-19, a waiver on the requirement of Phase IV trials, as provided under the Universal Health Care Law, was granted for the procurement of these items.
Angara explained that this will allow the country to immediately work on procuring the vaccine once this becomes available without first going through the Phase IV trial stage.
However, the bill states that the vaccine to be purchased must already be recommended and approved by the World Health Organization and/or other internationally recognized health agencies.
The minimum standards for the distribution of these medicines and vaccines shall be determined by the Food and Drug Administration and the Health Technology Assessment Council.