A CEBUANO lawmaker has co-authored a bill seeking to return to the National Government all basic health services that were transferred to local governments 26 years ago, as part of efforts to decentralize.

Rep. Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu Province, 4th District) co-authored House Bill 7326 with Rep. Joel Mayo Almario (Davao Oriental, 2nd district) and said he hopes that other Cebuano lawmakers will vote for it once it hurdles the House committee on health.

Basic health services, including the operation of district and provincial hospitals, were devolved to local government units (LGUs) under Republic Act 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991.

However, Salimbangon noted that LGUs are not effective enough in running local hospitals because of budget limitations.

National budget, for one

If these hospitals will be reverted to the National Government, its funds will be regularly infused under the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA), like all hospitals retained by the Department of Health.

In an interview, Tuburan Mayor Democrito “Aljun” Diamante expressed support for the proposal, said he believes it will decongest the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), a hospital in Cebu City that DOH continues to run.

Tuburan has a 25-bed district hospital managed by the Provincial Government, but Diamante said that most of the patients were brought to VSMMC, given its better medical facilities.

Diamante is Cebu chapter president of the League of Municipalities in the Philippines. Cebu Province has 14 district hospitals and four provincial hospitals.

Facilities, not fees

Interviewed separately, Barili Mayor Marlon Garcia said he will also support House Bill 7326, adding that the Barili District Hospital lacks facilities and doctors to make it more effective.

“It seems the Capitol is making a business by collecting fees for ambulance services, medicines and vaccines. If these services are funded by taxpayers’ money, why are they charging poor patients?” Garcia said.

Rep. Raul del Mar (Cebu City, north) said that devolution of provincial and district hospitals was initially viewed as a system that would provide better services to patients.

However, the corresponding appropriations were not devolved, so that LGUs were saddled with providing appropriations.

“What is important, therefore, is that the appropriations for these hospitals must be provided in the GAA. In fact, bigger appropriations to ensure better services to the people,” del Mar said.

Local expectations

Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia (Cebu Province, 3rd district) said she is in full agreement with HB 7326.

“There has been a steady deterioration of health services in our district and provincial hospitals under the present provincial administration. This has resulted in untold suffering and misery of the Cebuanos, especially those who cannot afford the services of private hospitals,” said the congresswoman.

She said the DOH can extend much better and more efficient services, “under the more compassionate leadership” of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In their bill, Almario and Salimbangon said that health services were devolved based on the premise that local government executives would have know better what their citizens need and how the necessary health services can be provided.

Unfortunately, Almario and Salimbangon said, public health care has deteriorated due to the failure to effectively decentralize and devolve powers to the LGUs, which would have allowed them to raise sufficient revenue to operate, maintain, fix or build hospitals.