People’s Health, Least in GMA’s Priorities

While Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has repeatedly claimed that health and other social services are her priorities, records show otherwise. The budget for health has been consistently meager, causing dire effects on the people’s conditions.

Volume VIII, No. 25, July 27-August 2, 2008

In 2007, the United Nations ranked the Philippines 90th out of 177 countries for the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a survey on the quality of life of citizens in UN member countries. It measures life expectancy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita. It was developed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a standard means of measuring human development, a concept, which according to the UNDP, refers to the process of widening the options of persons, giving them greater opportunities for education, health care, income, employment, etc.

Data from United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) reveals that in 2006, infant mortality rate in the Philippines is 24 per 1,000 live births.

At least 20 percent of infants born between 1999 and 2006 are with low birth weight. From 2000 to 2006, 28 percent of children under five are underweight.

According to the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), ten mothers die daily of pregnancy-and child-related causes. The group also said that seven out of ten Filipinos die without medical attention.

Malnutrition and hunger remain perennial in the Philippines. UNICEF Representative in the Philippines Nicholas K. Alipui said in a statement in May 2006, “The malnutrition situation in the Philippines is devastating.”

The Philippines is among the ten countries severely affected by malnutrition, which is
considered a disease caused by inadequate or excessive intake of food. More than three million Filipino children are suffering from undernutrition, the worst form of malnutrition.

A recent survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS) showed that 14.5 million Filipinos experienced involuntary hunger or hunger due to lack of food between April and June this year.

The number accounts for 16.3 percent of families nationwide or approximately 2.9 million households. It must be noted that it is higher than the 10-year average hunger rate of 12.1 percent. Severe hunger also increased from 3.2 percent to 4.2 percent (760, 000 families or 3.8 million people)

Metro Manila has the highest hunger incidence, hitting a record high of 22 percent. This is equivalent to 530,000 families or 2.65 million people.

A survey by IBON Foundation in April this year showed that 75.3 percent of families could not buy enough food.

Undeniably, poverty has affected the health conditions of the Filipino people.

Based on the 2004 data of the Department of Health (DoH), most of the ten highest causes of morbidity remain to be communicable but preventable diseases such as dengue, diarrhea, bronchitis and tuberculosis.


Amid these conditions, the Arroyo government has neglected the people’s health as data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed.

From 2001 to 2007, the annual average allocation for health is only P13 billion. ($293,918,155 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.23) The budget for 2007 was the lowest in seven years at P11.66 billion ($263,621,976). While the budget for 2008 has increased to P19.77 billion ($446,981,686), this is still a meager P219.66 ($4.966) per person health budget for the year considering that the country’s population is estimated at over 90 million. In addition, this meager budget is fast becoming nil because of run away inflation. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said the inflation rose to11.4 percent this June and could even reach 12 percent.

For this year, the allocation for disease prevention and control is only P4.91 billion ($111,010,626) while P120.13 million ($2,716,029) is allotted for monitoring and surveillance of diseases and outbreaks.

For this year, the 12 specialty government hospitals have a combined budget of P2.79 billion ($63,079,357). These include the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Tondo Medical Center, Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, National Children’s Hospital, National Center for Mental Health, Philippine Orthopedic Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and Amang Rodriguez Medical Center.

Five of these hospitals have not received funds for capital outlay. Tondo Medical Center has the lowest budget of P102.44 million ($2,316,075) and the National Center for Mental Health is allotted P461.65 million ($10,437,485).

The budget for the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for this year is P1.07 billion ($24,191,725), of which P810 million ($18,313,361) is allotted for personnel services and only P3 million ($67,827) for capital outlay.

In 2007, the PGH budget included a measly P15.5 million ($350,440) for medical and dental assistance, including hospitalization, for indigent patients. For this year, no such item is reflected in the PGH’s budget

Meanwhile, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center would receive P 629.33 million ($14,228,577) and the AFP Medical Center, P713.34 million ($16,127,967).

Subsidies for indigent patients for confinement in specialty hospitals and for the use of specialized equipment is only P6 million ($135,654). The overall subsidy for indigent patients is only P139 million ($3,142,663).

This is a pittance compared to allocations for defense and debt interest payments. From 2001 to 2008, the average allocation for debt interest payments is P257.10 billion ($5,812,796,744) and for defense, P43.58 billion ($985,304,092).

IBON Foundation revealed that debt service increased by 100 percent from 2001 to 2005. The independent think-tank estimated that during the same period, $48 billion had been paid for debt, equivalent to 11.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

Payments for the principal amortization of foreign and local debts in 2007 amounted to P303.83 billion ($6,869,319,466) and for this year, principal amortization is pegged at P328.34 billion ($7,423,468,234).



Debt Interest




13.64 B

181.60 B

32.78 B


14.49 B

185.86 B

38.91 B


12.40 B

226.41 B

44.42 B


12.88 B

271.53 B

43.85 B


12.93 B

301.69 B

44.19 B


11.66 B

318.18 B

49.34 B


19.77 B

269.85 B

50.93 B

Ave. allocation per year

13.84 B

257.10 B

43.58 B

Source of basic data: Department of Budget and Management
The Congress re-enacted the 2005 budget for 2006.


Due to the meager budget for health, government hospitals have imposed charges such as operating room deposits, emergency room fees and laboratory fees.

Based on a primer released by the Council for Health and Development (CHD), a national organization of community-based health programs (CBHPs), the PGH charges P1,500 ($33.91) for the use of its operating room and Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital charges P3,500 ($79.13) for the same item.

The CHD further revealed that patients at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) are suffering because of the hospital’s “no pay, no hook policy” referring to the hospital’s policy of not giving dialysis treatment to patients who cannot pay the treatment. One dialysis session at the NKTI costs P2,700 ($61.04). A patient with a serious kidney problem usually has to undergo dialysis treatment twice a week.

The health group also said that patients in public hospitals have to pay even for the cotton balls, syringe and gauze they consume.

Indeed, health services in government hospitals have become prohibitive for many of the country’s poor.

A survey conducted by the Kilos Bayan para sa Kalusugan (KBK or People’s Health Movement) in August 2007 revealed that 70 percent of patients paid P1,000 to P50,000 ($22.60 to $1,130) for hospital expenses and five percent spent P50,000 to one million pesos ($1,130 to $22,609). Only 15 percent were charged one peso to one thousand pesos ($0.02 to $22.60).

Sixty-one percent of the respondents of the survey are unemployed, 27 percent are low-income earners while the remaining 13 percent are low-income professionals. The survey results showed that 76 percent of the respondents have to borrow money from friends and relatives, sell their property or beg for mercy from charitable institutions to be able to pay the expenses they incurred while in the hospital.

The April 2008 survey by IBON Foundation also showed that 73.38 percent of families are having difficulty paying for medicines and treatment.

Even the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) cards prove to be insignificant, the CHD primer stated.

The PhilHealth claimed to cover 80 percent of the population.

According to Dr. Gene Nisperos, HEAD vice chairperson, the National Institute of Health maintained that the PhilHealth’s claim of coveragehealth sit is overestimated by at least 20 percent.

Nisperos noted that the PhilHealth coverage has been bloated to 80 percent during the election period in 2006. In the past years, the coverage is only 61 percent. He added that the PhilHealth does not include outpatient services.

Independent surveys conducted by the KBK also showed that in Metro Manila’s seven government hospitals, seven in every ten poor families are not members of PhilHealth.

Another study commissioned by the European Commission regarding PhilHealth coverage in Mindanao showed that only ten percent of the poor in Tawi-Tawi, 12 percent in Davao Oriental and 15 percent in Zamboanga del Norte and Maguindanao are covered by PhilHealth.

In a press conference, July 25, Dr. Eleanor Jara¸ CHD executive director, criticized the Botika ng Barangay program of the Arroyo government. She said, “There is no truth in government’s claim that the poor benefits from this program.”

Jara cited as an example the Botika ng Barangay in Payatas. She said that residents complained that the pharmacy is empty.

She also slammed the profiteering of the government from the said program. She revealed that while mefenamic acid costs P11 ($0.248) in some branches of the Botika ng Barangay, the actual cost of the said medicine, which is imported from India or Pakistan is only two pesos ($0.045).


The Arroyo government has continued the implementation of the Health Sector Reform Agenda (HSRA) through the Fourmula One Program. The HSRA was formulated in 1999 and ended in 2005.

The CHD maintained that the HSRA “laid down the conditions where the people have to foot for all their health needs and expenditures.”

The HSRA paved the way for the privatization of specialty hospitals. The CHD said, “In the guise of corporatization, the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute at Philippine Children’s Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center and the Quirino Memorial Medical Center were corporatized and provided autonomy in management and financial aspects.”

Mechanisms were implemented to collect and earn more revenues, including increasing the number of pay wards while reducing the number of beds for charity and allowing the DoH by virtue of Executive Order 197 to increase fees in public hospitals up to 20 percent.

The CHD further stressed, “The aspects of health reforms are characterized by increasing the people’s out-of-pocket spending for health and decreasing funds and responsibility of the government for people’s health.” Bulatlat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: