Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon urged the Department of Health (DOH) to drop its plan to spend P11.7 billion for the hiring of 130,000 contact tracers in consideration of the country’s growing budget deficit due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“In light of the budget deficit, it behooves all agencies to exercise prudent judgment in the use of public funds. Mag-ingat po tayo sa paggasta ng pera ng taumbayan lalo sa panahon ng krisis,” said Drilon, who was able to force the PhilHealth to lower its COVID-19 testing package by 50 percent, saving the government a potential loss of P8.3 billion.
Drilon backed Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s call for “more prudent” use of the country’s funds. Sotto also asked the DOH to divert the P11.7 billion for the treatment of patients.
The minority leader remprimanded the DOH for insisting on its plan when it can find other ways “to do contact tracing without hurting the government coffers”, adding that such a move “shows its insensitivity to budget deficit.”
“Given the increasing budget deficit, which is projected to reach P1.56 trillion or 8.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product this year, this P11.7 billion should better be put to good use,” said Drilon.
The minority leader reiterated his proposal for the DOH to mobilize civil society organizations and tap around 400 thousand barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to carry out contact tracing.
Drilon said by doing so, it will save the government huge amount of money.
In his letter to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III last week, Drilon said that to help expedite contact tracing, he tap the over 200,000 Barangay Health Workers (BHWs), 200,000 parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program and members of DSWD-accredited Civil Society Organizations to do contact tracing.
“Time is of the essence and we must act expeditiously – tapping the above workers and leaders can save us precious time and help us combat COVID-19 efficiently,” Drilon told Duque in light of warnings issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the slow contact tracing efforts in the country. “Since they are already organized, they can be quickly mobilized as contact tracers,” he added. Drilon emphasized the importance of tracking in containing the virus and winning the fight against the pandemic.
“Our objective to prevent the virus from spreading is based on our ability to efficiently identify the infected and notify those he or she has made contact with. Hence, contact tracing is a must and should never be neglected,” Drilon said./Stacy Ang