MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday flagged a P2-billion decrease in the 2021 budget of 33 national and regional government hospitals, saying this could slow down the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three of those hospitals were "major COVID referral centers in cities that have the highest number of cases in their respective regions," Hontiveros said in a statement.
"Billions worth of cuts in the middle of a pandemic means we drastically slashed the capacity of government hospitals to provide services and medicines for free," she said.
"Dahil dito, aakyat pa ang out-of-pocket expenses ng mga tao. This is grossly anti-poor and anti-people," the opposition senator said.
The Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC) - "which has the highest number of cases in the whole Philippines" - will get a P305.48 million funding reduction, while the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao - which is at full capacity - will receive a P699.2 million budget cut, she said.
"Most of these hospitals are in emerging, if not current, hotspot areas," Hontiveros said.
"Shouldn't common sense tell us that when the threat is rising, we provide reinforcement?" she said.
"We don't know when this pandemic will end, so our hospitals have to be ever-ready to deal with the influx of patients," she said.
The P10-billion budget cut for the Prevention and Control of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases is another questionable issue, she said.
"Hindi tayo pwedeng basta-basta lang 'business-as-usual,'" she said.
"Hindi porket may COVID-19 ay nawala na ang ibang sakit, kaya dapat pinapatapang natin ang budget para sa matinding laban na ito," she said.
As of October 21, the Philippines is still Southeast Asia's COVID-19 epicenter with 362,243 cases.
In August, health workers' groups in the country asked the government for a "timeout," to give fatigued medical frontliners a break from tending to thousands of COVID-19 patients.