With P140-B savings, why seek P10-B more?
HIDDEN SAVINGS: Instead of the P10-billion supplemental calamity budget that the Congress wants to pass, President Gloria Arroyo should just use the P140 billion in savings accumulated from programs that were phased down in 2008.
Many reasonable people find the above calamity-mitigation funding proposal of the private sector Alternative Budget Initiative logical and pragmatic.
Tapping accumulated savings is simpler and faster fund mobilization than enacting a supplemental budget that is prone to the usual legislative horse-trading and sure to bloat the deficit.
Using the impounded billions now to cushion the depredation of typhoons and future disasters will also dispel suspicion that the “war chest” is being packed and preserved for partisan spending in the 2010 elections.
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BULGING DEFICIT: The ABI said the P140-billion savings piled up after the President stopped the fund releases for programs of different agencies in 2008 and transferred the billions to overall savings.
Former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines that organized the ABI, said: “The proposed P10-billion supplemental budget for a calamity fund will cause more hardships for millions of hungry Filipinos because this will add to the country’s ballooning deficit.”
Briones said the deficit starts at P210 billion as of end of August and is expected to breach P300 billion by the end of the year.
“Meanwhile, life has been a calamity for 3.7 million Filipino families with no food, no education, and no healthcare, because funds for social development programs had been impounded and transformed to savings,” she added.
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OTHER OPTIONS: Even without a supplemental budget, Malacanang is not that helpless in mitigating the effects of disasters, Briones said.
Another option, she pointed out, is for the Congress to advise the President to use Special Purpose Funds that may be validly spent during disasters. The entire country has been declared in a state of calamity.
With the lump sums classified as Special Purpose Funds are billions under the Allocations for Local Government Units that include the Kilos Asenso Fund and Financial Subsidy to LGUs.
The President simply has to inform the Congress, which holds the purse strings of government, that she would transfer certain budget items to the calamity fund.
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AUDIT NEEDED: In yesterday’s Senate inquiry into the government’s handling of the Ondong disaster, the La Liga Policy Institute supported the ABI proposal.
Roland Cabigas, LLPI managing director, said the quickest way to finance government’s response to disasters is “not by enacting a supplemental budget but by simply releasing already available funds but have been impounded since 2008.”
He added that calamity fund disbursement must be reviewed. A process must be defined, he said, where local governments directly receive the money and prioritize spending based on actual needs.”
Calamity funds are often treated as highly discretionary and not audited. For 2009 so far, Cabigas said, the calamity fund releases that have reached P6 billion must be audited.
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MEDICAL FEES: The justification by a doctor of stratified professional fees in hospitals — always higher for patients who look like they can afford it — drew stinging rejoinders touching on the breach of the physician’s oath and alleged tax evasion.
Reader Rex Pantaleon said that just like they do in auto repair shops, the rates for specific hospital procedures and physicians’ services must be standardized and regulated so that wherever a patient goes, he would know what to expect.
There could be a value-added option for slightly raising the fee, but even this should be regulated and the payment duly acknowledged in official receipts registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, he added.
He and others were reacting to a Dr. Noreen Tangcuangco who justified high professional fees by saying, among other things, that doctors spend for their education and training and should thus be properly compensated.
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LAME EXCUSE: The discussion over exorbitant fees was an offshoot of the announcement of the Private Hospitals Association that its members would raise rates to recoup losses from the mandated price reduction on 21 essential drugs.
The justification, given by Dr. Rustico Jimenez, PHA president, is baseless. Health Secretary Francisco Duque said so and vowed to have hospitals’ books audited.
Since the prices of selected medicines have been halved by the government, the hospitals will also procure them with the same price reduction. With a low acquisition cost, the hospitals will not incur losses when they pass them on to patients at half the usual price.
Private hospitals are not being honest when they use the price cut on 21 medicines as an excuse for raising already exorbitant fees and costs of other items used on captive patients.
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COMPASSION: Another reader, Mary Kate Liwanag, said Dr. Tangcuangco sounded “so defensive to the A class — ‘multimillion-peso homes, thousand-peso haircut’ — I’ll not delve into this, since I belong to the middle class fixed-wage bracket.”
Liwanag said: “Going to a specialist who charges P700 per consultation, not including lab tests, is heavy on our pockets. These doctors earn daily from their consultations aside form their professional fees on procedures depending on what hospital is chosen.
“Do these doctors and the other specialists pay the correct income tax? And to think that they live in beautiful homes and drive expensive cars, and then complain about also paying for parking.
“As professionals, they have the right to due compensation, but doctors bound by their oath must have compassion for those who cannot afford costly consultations and medication.”