Health advocates welcome victory over PDAF’s unconstitutionality

via Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI)

Finally, the health of the Filipino people seizes to become just another target for political patronage of traditional politicians. This came as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) is unconstitutional. With this latest development, health advocates have welcomed this as a hard-won gain of the mass movement’s continuing struggle.

Public finance in health is one of the critical issues in the people’s fight against the pork barrel system. PDAF is only 5.5 percent of the Special Purpose Fund (SPF), one of the presidential pork barrel funds. Therefore, the fight to scrap the other lump sum, discretionary funds continues.

Medical assistance for service patients, along with scholarships, has always been the justifications of politicians on why PDAF should stay. However, the recent review of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) of PDAF showed that these items got morsels from the billions of pesos spent for pork, only PhP3 billion or six to eight percent of the total pork released from July 2010 to June 2013.

According to Mercy Fabros, ABI-Health Cluster Coordinator, “for the longest time, poor people knock on the offices of congress representatives and senators like beggars begging alms for medical assistance; Because their mindset has been clouded by the assistance their receiving, the people do not fully understand that PDAF is sourced from their own money (taxes). It is their right to access health services and the obligation of the government to provide them. The evil of the system of patronage lies in the fact that it imprisons people constantly in a morally-degrading relationship with politicians.”

About PhP25.2 billion funds will be freed-up in the 2014 National Government Budget, which can be used to finance programs that would genuinely contribute to the achievement of Universal Health Care (UHC). The Department of Health (DoH) could use this opportunity to make its budget a real leap forward by adopting ABI Health Cluster’s proposed alternative budget.

Now the rendering of PDAF as unconstitutional and forwarding of funds instead to frontline agencies such as the DOH insulates health services from politics.

“For the 2013 additional, PDAF-sourced funds, while we understand the need still for medical assistance through the set-up voucher’s system, DoH could also use the funds to restore basic health systems at least in the Yolanda-stricken areas that could provide more health services for the survivors,” Fabros added.

Access to health services is a right and it is the state’s obligation to do so. Traditional politicians have no business using need for medical assistance as a ticket to buy votes and make people dependent on their bleeding hearts. Clearly, the fight against PDAF is a battle half-won for health advocates because the biggest chunk of the pork barrel remains intact. Because it has opened more spaces for meaningful participation, this is now the best time to influence public health policy and budgeting.

The ABI-Health Cluster is composed of 62 member organizations advocating for Universal Health Care. It is one of the clusters of ABI along with Education, Agriculture, Social Protection, Environment and Persons with Disabilities Clusters. It is attached to Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a network of a hundred nongovernment organizations that, for eight years, has been successfully pushing for increases in the national budgets for social development, called for the realignment of P25 Billion allotted to the unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) to national government agencies’ programs to help victims of disasters and prevent more tragedies caused by super typhoons and other calamities.