Fund for contraceptives remains unspent while LGUs waits for guidelines

WHAT happens when a government agency has P180 million for family planning supplies but is barred from buying contraceptives?

Simple. Eight months pass and the guidelines for therelease of the money are still being hammered out. The only thing that is clearso far: P30 million or 16.6 percent of the money has been set aside “forregular operations” of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control(NCDPC) and the Centers for Health Development (CHD), which will draft theguidelines and administer the fund.

“That is too much,” says an exasperated Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. Lagman andAlagad party-list representative Rodante Marcoleta worked for the P180million-budget insertion in the General Appropriations Act last year. In aletter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Lagman expressed concern thatthe “long delay in the approval and issuance of the guidelines immobilizesprecious funds for reproductive health.”

“We’re now on the second half of the third quarter, the local governmentunits are raring to avail of the money, but there are no guidelines yet,” hesays.

If the fund is not used by the end of the year, the money will be returned tothe National Treasury.

Under the guidelines now being worked out by the Department of Health, localgovernment units will have to meet several criteria in getting a share of thefund. Among them is assigning regional NCDPCs and CHDs to help mayors in gettingthe fund. Clusters of LGUs will be awarded funds based on their ability to“meet the minimum standards on local availability and access to natural familyplanning,” and “the extent that LGUs have already borne the burden ofproviding family planning services for free to poor clients.”

Lagman protested the imposition of natural family planning as a condition inproviding funds for artificial contraceptives. He said this condition was notpart of their intention when the budget insertion was made. He reminded Duquethat the congressional allocation is for artificial family planning.“Therefore its access by LGUs should not be made dependent on any programrelating to NFP in the same manner that access to NFP must not depend on thebeneficiary’s existing programs on artificial family planning,” Lagman said.

The second condition also discriminates against cash-strapped local governmentunits whose mayors would have wanted to provide for the artificial contraceptiverequirements of their constituents, but had no funding source.The supply of freecontraceptives will dry up next year. The United States Agency for InternationalDevelopment (USAID), the country’s contraceptive provider since 1969, willcompletely pull out in 2008. (see latest PCIJ report).

Nongovernmental organizations that focus on reproductive health say theArroyo government has no clear program in place to pick up the slack. It isestimated that government needs at least $2 million annually to meet thecountry’s family planning supply requirements. But since she took over, Arroyoasked mayors and governors to handle the contraceptive requirements of theirconstituents, a deviation from the nationally-mandated and funded programs byprevious presidents from the time of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

“We’ve been warned about this as early as 1998. We have had almost 10 yearsto prepare,” fumes Dr. Alberto Romualdez, former health secretary and now vicepresident of The Forum on Family Planning and Development (The Forum). He addsthat the guidelines now being drafted by the DOH for the use of the funds forcontraceptives is “similar to an obstacle course.”

“We ask the current government to allocate the budget for its intendedbeneficiaries. We all know that unless we find solutions to the problem of aballooning populace, all our efforts to end poverty will be all put to waste,”said Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum.

Already, various NGOs and even the National Economic and Development Authority(NEDA) are saying that the Arroyo government will not meet its 2015 target ofreducing child mortality, improving maternal health and ensuring that allchildren have primary education under their belt under the United NationsMillennium Development Goals. In reviewing the midterm performance of the Arroyoadministration under the MDGs, these two areas are seen as among the mostneglected, according to various NGOs.

“We need political commitment to the MDGs, not political commitment tosuperhighways and airports,” said Professor Leonor Magtolis-Briones, head ofSocial Watch Philippines. She was referring to the plans outlined by Arroyo inher recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), where her 13-page speech devotedeight pages to infrastructure projects, mostly roads and airports, for hersupporters.