DOH budget hearing gets tense, congressmen asked to dance
MANILA, Philippines – A heated debate between health officials and congressmen erupted Thursday, September 4, during the hearing on proposed 2015 budget of the Department of Health (DOH) at the House of Representatives.
How to ease the tension? The chairman of the appropriations committee asked one of the resource speakers to lead everybody in the room to dance.
The heated exchanges began when ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio asked DOH Secretary Enrique Ona on his department's assistance to indigent patients.
Tinio was referring to an audio recording of a May 20 briefing where Health Undersecretary Janette Garin talked about the program to congressmen. She supposedly told them that it was funded by a spending program by Malacañang that would later become controversial, and that congressmen could endorse beneficiaries.
The recording is among the evidence in an impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III filed by Tinio, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and other groups last August 11. (READ: 'Tinio breached Congress protocol, trust in impeach meeting')
"Dito rin kaharap niya ang mga kongresista at siya rin malinaw na malinaw na sinabi niya, 'Ang perang nasa DOH, actually, pera ninyo. Kayo ang magtatakda kung paano gagamitin.' Kaya idinetalye niya kung paano 'yung mekanismo na pag nagrerekomenda ang congressman, maglalabas ng pera. Malinaw na malinaw na labag sa batas at betrayal of public trust," Tinio earlier said.
(In this recording she was also facing congressmen and she said very clearly, "The money that is in DOH is actually your money. You should be the ones to dictate how it should be used." That's why she discussed in detail how the mechanism works when a congressman recommends a patient or a project. This is a clear violation of the law and a betrayal of public trust.)
Sin tax, not PDAF
On Thursday, both Ona and Garin clarified the assistance to indigent patients – with an allocation of P3.19 billion in the 2014 budget – is funded by revenues from the sin tax.
The assistance program has been allocated P1.76 billion under the proposed budget.
"When that was discussed, we were made to believe it was PDAF being transferred to DOH. [But] we were told it’s not PDAF, it came from the sin taxes,” Garin explained.
But Tinio also asked Garin about the legal basis of utilizing proceeds from the sin tax collection.
"Nasaan ang legal basis nun? Nowehere is the sin tax mentioned in the special provision on assistance to indigent patients. Ang sinasabi ba nila ngayon pati pala revenue from sin tax ginawa nang pork barrel?” Tinio asked.
(Where's the legal basis of that? Nowehere is the sin tax mentioned in the special provision [of the General Appropriations Act] on assistance to indigent patients. Are they now saying even the revenue from sin tax is pork barrel?)
Ona answered: "Any increase of DOH budget from 2013 to 2014 GAA is attributed to the sin tax.”
Tinio said that what the health secretary was saying “is a blatant revision of history,” since the controversial P25.2-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was realigned to various government agencies, including DOH.
"Maliwanag 'yung statement ni Usec Garin: Ang mag-a-identify ng indigent patients ay hindi DOH kundi congressmen. Malinaw na violation ng SC decision regarding post-enactment intervention of congressmen,” he explained. (READ: SC junks PDAF as unconstitutional)
(Usec Garin's statement was clear: Congressmen, and not DOH, will identify the indigent patients. This is a clear violation of the SC decision regarding post-enactment intervention of congressmen.)
Tinio also accused Ona of deceiving the public.
"Mawalang-galang na po Sec Ona, nililinlang niyo po ang publiko. Pinatutupad niyo rin yung pork barrel system sa medical assistance,” he said. (With all due respect Sec Ona, you are deceiving the public. You are also implementing the pork barrely system in the medical assistance.)
The health secretary asked Tinio to withdraw his statement. "Ako po ay hindi nanlilinlang. I hope you will withdraw that, your honor, because hindi ako nanlilinlang (I am not deceiving anyone. I hope you will withdraw that, your honor, because I am not deceiving anyone).”
The hearing heated up even more when Negros Oriental Representative Pryde Henry Teves reacted to the debate, largely taking a swipe at Tinio.
"From my end, post-intervention and endorsement or recommendation are two different things. Maging congressman, mayor, or private citizen na kailangang magpatulong, sasamahan ko, tutulungan ko."
(From my end, post-intervention and endorsement or recommendation are two different things. Whether it's a congressman, mayor, or private citizen who needs help, I will help.)
"Kung sila ayaw nila eh di huwag. [But] when the time comes that someone asks for help, then help him for God’s sake – bumoto sa iyo o hindi.... Kung ayaw nyong tumulong eh di huwag," Teves said.
(If they don't want to help, then let them be. [But] when the time comes that someone asks for help, then help him for God’s sake – whether he voted for you or not. If you don't want to help, then don't.)
Tinio tried to answer back, but the House committee on appropriations suspended the session for a quick break. To ease the tension, the committee asked Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag for a short dance number.
Tayag happily obliged.
The health official is known for his dancing during health campaign events. Last December, for example, he danced to Katy Perry's song "Roar" to discourage Filipinos from using fireworks during New Year celebrations.