Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Ray Reyes revealed that the National Immunization Program got a budget of Php8.26 billion for 2024 on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 during the second day of the Injecting Hope seminar-workshop at the Century Park Hotel in Manila. – Photo by Harold T. Raymundo

By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

MANILA – Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Ray Reyes, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Health, tackled on Thursday (Nov. 30) the response of the local government unit, or the government in particular, on the whole-of-society approach on vaccination.

Also as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Reyes said that in Batangas province, the number one issue is “trabaho (employment)” and the second is the health issue, especially during the pandemic period.

During the second day of the “Injecting Hope” seminar-workshop in Century Park Hotel in this city, Rep. Reyes noted that In the 2024 budget, the way they crafted the appropriations is mainly on socio-economic development where Php20 billion was put on basic healthcare needs, such as dialysis centers and the primary health centers, among others.

Rep. Reyes said that medical assistance to indigent patients which also increased, family health, nutrition and family health program, particularly the National Immunization Program which is appropriated with Php8.26 billion for 2024, which is still higher than the Php7 billion budget in 2023.

He noted though that the actual budget request of the Department of Health (DOH) for 2024 is Php204 billion.

“Geographically-isolated areas are places where the vaccination hesitancy has a higher rate,” he said.

“You can be assured that these Barangay Health Workers are going house-to-house in order to provide the basic health services to the far-flung areas,” he said.

There is now a pending bill in the House of Representatives in the 19th Congress seeking to institutionalize the Barangay Health Workers who do not only deserve a monthly honorarium, but more benefits for them and make them regular government employees as they serve in the grass roots level.

“We don’t have to assert our authority over them because of sophisticated intelligence. There are credible media organizations. Sometimes, it’s difficult to believe the media,” Rep. Reyes said.

Dr. Willie Ong was cited as the number 1 media influencer in the medical field, who is also a credible “talking head” for the media organizations.

“Because of the Mandanas ruling which states that most of the vaccines have to be devolved in the local government units (LGUs). The problem is, they do not have the capability,” Rep. Reyes said.

Rep. Reyes cited for an example the City of Sto. Tomas in Batangas province where the schools through the PTAs (Parents and Teachers Association) suddenly were tapped as the “voice” of the local government.

“Let’s all be the vehicle to give the right information. The advocacy of Anakalusugan is healthcare,” Reyes said.

Rep. Reyes is an engineer by professional training and not even a doctor.

The Universal Health Law provides that everybody now is a member of PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) where the National Health Program is given a budget of Php101 billion which goes to PhilHealth.

It also mandates that only a 25 percent “out of pocket” shall be shouldered by PhilHealth members.

However, Rep. Reyes said that PhilHealth is burdening those who are applying for PhilHealth membership as they are giving them a hard time in complying with the requirements such that a National Identification (ID) card is not even enough to secure such a membership.

PhilHealth has an “excess budget” of Php200 billion such that they can operate in two years’ time without asking for subsidy from the national government.

“It (Php200 billion) is an unutilized budget which can otherwise be used to other health programs of the government,” Rep. Reyes said.