P1-B RH budget cut a horrible precedent

NEWS RELEASE

Transcript of interview with Sen. Pia S. Cayetano
(Highlights)

Topic: On the P1-B RH budget cut
Where: Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Date: 14 January 2016

Sen. Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): Good morning. It’s very important that I raise this issue because the public should know that we, as legislators, cannot do our job well when we do not have the accurate information that should be provided to us. What I’m trying to say is, during the bicameral conference, the information that was relayed to the senators on the floor is very different from what the final outcome was in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) signed by the President.

So let me explain, in the Senate version (shows Senate version document), ito po yung lumalabas na budget ng DOH. It turns out that we increased the budget of DOH by P451 million. So please note during that time that we had Senate budget debates on the floor, dumaan na rin kami sa buong process na yan including committee hearings, and at no point was there any discussion about any intention of decreasing the family planning budget by a large amount.

During the Senate debates, on the side, Senator Sotto (Vicente Sotto III) approached me and told me that he had a concern regarding the ability of DOH to distribute a significant amount of condoms, and so sabi nya sa akin, meron syang konting ibabawas. Konti lang. And in the context of the whole budget of family planning, including yung sa condoms, konti lang talaga yung ipinakita nya sa akin na ibabawas, and so sabi ko, ‘Sige, huwag na nating pagtalunan yan kasi napakaliit na halaga lang nun.’ So wala tayong problema in the Senate version. And then, ang process natin, after the Senate and the House (pass their versions), of course nauna ang House na magpasa ng kanilang bill, nagkakaroon ng bicameral conference committee wherein each house has a chairperson and members who meet together to reconcile the different versions of each house. And each chamber would have to trust that their chairperson would defend their version. Ganun naman po yun, that’s normal. You also of course understand that the chairman cannot commit to being able to deliver exactly the same Senate version. Of course because may give-and-take yan. Alam naman po natin yan. So when the bicameral conference report was made in the Senate, the only thing na napansin namin, let me show you (shows bicam report), this is the bicameral conference report, it’s about an inch thick. And on its face, makikita mo yung budget ng Department of Health, bumaba po sya ng P700 million. But nowhere on its face or anywhere inside of this did it specify na binabaan po ang budget ng family planning. The only document that they are showing us now, which was here in the bicameral conference report, is a special provision kung saan nakalagay kung papaano gagastusin ang budget for the ‘procurement of medicines, drugs and vaccines.’ And there’s also an amount there of P8 billion. So ito, refers specifically to drugs, vaccines and medicines. So kung aaralin mo ‘to, bumaba po to ng P1 billion, but again, hindi po ito naha-highlight sa amin, hindi po nati-trigger yung concern namin kasi hindi naman sya specifically family planning. And then finally (shows GAA page showing P1 billion cut), in the final version that was signed by the President, lumabas na po ito. Ito na, General Appropriations Act, kung saan makikita na ang budget for family health and responsible parenting is now P2.2 billion. It used to be P3.2 billion. So doon na lang nakita na itong Family Health and Responsible Parenting, kung saan pasok ang family planning, went down by P1 billion. But in the previous documents I showed you, na yun naman ang ipinakita sa amin (senators), wala namang nakasulat doon.

So in my opinion, in the 12 years that I was a senator, we were not given the appropriate information. I feel po na niloko po kami dito. Dahil hindi naman po kami magvo-vote ng ‘yes’ or ‘no’ accurately and responsibly, if we do not know what was the exact content, or what changes were made. The bicameral report is supposed to report the significant changes. And P1 billion out of family planning is significant.

Q: Have you spoken to any of the senators? Siguro Ma’am si Sen. Legarda regarding sa… nagkaroon nga ng parang discrepancy?

SPSC: The first thing I did when I heard about it through news reports based on (DOH) Sec. Garin’s statement, na nalaman din nila na upon signing (of the GAA), was syempre pina-research ko muna, kasi I think my record will bear me out na hindi naman ako basta-basta nanghuhusga, hindi naman ako basta-basta nagco-comment until I really read the facts through research. So it’s taken my staff more than a few days to really dig into it and to try to find out what exactly happened. So I didn’t call or text anyone. But meanwhile, while we were looking, I felt that the right person to ask is Sen. TG Guingona because he is the current chairperson of the committee on health. So kung alam nyang nangyari ito, at least sya ang kakausapin ko, ano ba ang napag-usapan, bakit ka pumayag na bumaba yan? Pero wala ring alam si Senator TG, and he is also a member of the bicameral conference. So doon ako nagulat na ang labo naman nito. I mean, you know, out of courtesy naman, you also inform the chairperson na yung budget na under sa kanya, ay mayroong potensyal na magagalaw, eh hindi nya alam, so nagulat talaga ako. I have not talked to anyone else because I think the records will bear me out. What else is left to say? What’s done is done.

Q: Ma’am based on your research, yun po bang natanggal na P1 billion is supposedly for what in particular? Kasi si Secretary Abad is saying the more than P800 million was supposed to be for the procurement lang of the implant (Implanon) na sinasabing naka-TRO naman sa Supreme Court?

SPSC: You know, again, that’s why I was very clear when I made my presentation, it went through the process. The details of how DOH intends to spend that money was submitted (previously) to the committee. That’s why it’s very important that if the chairperson, the chairperson of finance would decide on something, you go back to record, di ba? Na ano ba yang tinatanggal mo? Ano bang significance nun? Ano kahalagahan nun? Kasi lalabas naman sa record na sinubmit naman ito (breakdown) ng DOH sa panel ng committee on health, and therefore this forms part of the records. You will clearly see here (shows line item breakdown of DOH’s Family Health and Responsible Parenting budget) sa procurement of commodities, family planning is P1 billion.

So when I read the reports wherein they said na ano naman yan, ‘general naman yan,’ ‘pwede n’yo naman ibawas sa iba.’ Hindi pwede dahil yung P1 billion, specific yan sa family planning. Ano magbabawas tayo ng vaccines? Yung vaccines na ibibigay natin sa mga anak natin, babawasan natin? Tama ba yun? That is very irresponsible. You cannot deal with health issues on a ‘bahala na, maghati-hati-na-lang-kayo’ attitude. And then to specifically respond to your question about the items on TRO, sinubmit na rin naman daw nina Secretary Garin ang kanilang realignment that they’re using those funds for something else, and not for the (item subjected to) TRO. So again, it belies the supposed response that this was done in good faith. Because I do not believe it was done in good faith.

Q: What action will you be taking up because specifically, in your statement, nakalagay po doon sa dulo, you find this ‘unethical’ and ‘unacceptable.’

SPSC: Yes and I take this up precisely because I want all legislators to be concerned that this is happening. We cannot do our job well if we cannot trust that the committee that we have empowered to represent us in the bicameral conference will not give us the accurate information. This is a really horrible precedent. It is not a family planning issue only; it is an issue on procedures; it is an issue on ethics; on how we conduct business in Congress. I cannot speak for the House dahil hindi naman ako myembro ng House, bahala rin sila sa end nila kung ano. I can only speak for the Senate because I know this was not taken up on the Senate floor, I know that things can change in the bicam, because isa din yun sa dinadahilan na… hindi naman yung pumasa sa Senate ang pwedeng i-deliver sa inyo eksakto. I know that, I have chaired many bicameral conference committees but I have also worked ethically such that if there is a major change, I inform the senator who is concerned on that issue before I do something. I refer to the documents on hand and none of this was done. It was done so underhandedly na kung hindi pa napansin ni Secretary Garin later on, hindi pa namin malalaman. And the kind of responses that I’ve heard – to me are totally unacceptable. To say that… ‘ginamit naman yan para sa mga SUC,’ eh ako din po ang nag-amend para madagdagan ang budget ng SUC. Ambabaw ng sagot na yun. These issues have been discussed on the Senate floor. We have already done that na hangga’t kaya popondohan lahat ng gusto namin…(inaudible)…Na wala man lang pasabi, wala man lang information, tapos inireport na hindi pa kasama. So that to me is unethical. I cannot call it anything else.

Q: So what steps will you be taking?

SPSC: Well this is my one step, because the biggest lesson that we can learn is precisely to ensure that this does not happen again. Whether it’s family planning, whether it’s education, whatever the issue is, I call on every legislator to be sure that in the next Congress, don’t allow this to happen. Because this is the accountability of the chairperson and the committee. Hindi naman namin kayang mag-meeting lahat doon (bicam), we cannot, and so that‘s why we have a committee. So that is my number one concern and I’m doing that by making this issue public. Number two, I call upon the Executive Body now to work on it, to now find a way to rectify the damage created by some members of Congress. What else can I say? I mean I would like to think that the Executive Body has been consistent in supporting Reproductive Health. So nangyari na rin lang ito, magtulungan na lang tayo to restore that budget.

And of course, I also have the option of going to the Supreme Court. I’m also studying it. I don’t want to – the Supreme Court is burdened with so many important cases – but I cannot tolerate this kind of action within a government body that I am aligned with, that I am attached to.

Q: How about yung ethics committee?

SPSC: Those are all options but it’s not my priority. What I want is for my colleagues to be alerted that this has happened and that this is not acceptable. I mean I want those responsible to be able to explain it to the people with a straight face and not give people explanation like, ‘may maganda namang pinuntahan yan, (gaya ng) SUCs…’ but it’s not the issue. The issue is you took it out without explaining to us, then covering it up. It was a cover-up. There was no intention to disclose that information. It’s P1 billion of a fund that is covered by law (RH Law). Remember, lahat ng pinag-gagastusan nitong ating General Appropriations Act, not everything is covered by law other than the General Appropriations Act itself. But Reproductive Health along with a few others has a law that require that you fund it. And you took it out? That’s why it’s illegal. You basically refuse to fund a program that was created by law.

Q: Who do you think in particular should be blamed for this misunderstanding?

SPSC: It’s not a misunderstanding. It is a dereliction of duty. I mean the chairman of the committee on finance is supposed to uphold the integrity of our deliberations by, if not being able to defend it, by explaining it to us so we’ll have an opportunity to do something also as a body.

Q: What will be the effect of cutting the P1 billion? What will be affected the most?

SPSC: The bicameral committee report inserted a special provision that said that the purchase of vaccines, medicines and drugs shall be used for the poorest of the poor. So it seems such a well-intended special provision, right? Use that money for the poorest of the poor. But if you look at that amount, which is P8.9 billion, that was already reduced by P1 billion, and because that is a general amount for drugs and vaccines, you won’t really think much of it. And I, because I’m not the chairman on the committee on health, and neither was I the sub-committee chairman for finance on health, I assumed that when I saw this alone, that there were other concerns on other drugs and vaccines and other medicines – not knowing that what that P1 billion represented was family planning. That whole amount was family planning.

So what is the effect? The effect is roughly 24 million women of reproductive age will not have access to reproductive health products. One of the senators said na ‘mayroon pa namang budget, there’s two-point-something-billion.’ But that (amount) was already broken down by DOH in previous submissions to the committees. Those are already covered by other things. It was the purchase of contraceptives that was affected. And that includes 4 million of the most needy women in society. So this is the poorest of the poor. Take note that there is also another quintile right above them who are also living below minimum wage that are also still needy. So I’d say easily 10 million women are very much affected. Maybe the other 15 million women (above the poorest two quintiles) can purchase some of their supplies on their own, but the other 10 (million) cannot. And what does that mean? It means married women who are probably on their fifth pregnancy may then become pregnant this year. Young women who’ve had two miscarriages and should not get pregnant again might die because they won’t have access to contraceptives. So it goes on and on and that’s millions of women who will be deprived of this. This is the repercussion of this budget being cut.

Now, I could have had this debate (on the Senate floor) and lost, but that is part of my job and my right (as a senator). I should have had this debate in the Senate if that was the intention. #

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on the ‘deceptive’ P1-B RH budget cut: “Niloko po kami dito… The bicameral report is supposed to report the significant changes. And P1 billion out of family planning is significant.”

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