November 30, 2022

Hopes for the immediate approval of the House bill that will revert the management of the Benguet General Hospital to the Department of Health has a reached a major roadblock as the bill’s sponsor in the Senate failed to justify why the biggest hospital in Benguet needs to be under the national government again.

Last week, the Senate started deliberating on 15 proposals to renationalize or upgrade various hospitals in the country.

BeGH and Lanao del Norte Provincial Hospital are some of the hospitals for renationalization that have been passed in Congress and is awaiting approval in the Senate before these can take effect.

During the deliberations last May 18, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked Senate Committee on Health and Demographics chair Senator Christopher Go how the national government will be able to manage more hospitals when it is already financially struggling because of the Covid-19.

Drilon also pointed out that management of local hospitals is a function devolved to local governments. He also cited the Mandanas doctrine which when implemented by 2022, will decrease revenue of the national government but will in turn, exponentially increase the internal revenue of local governments.

Drilon said on the Covid-19 response alone, the national government is already overburdened with expenses.

When Go could not answer Drilon’s questions, he asked for the termination of interpellations – a move met with objection by their colleagues saying the period of interpellation is a necessary process before laws are passed.

Go said the Senate should not take long to approve the bills on upgrading and renationalization of hospitals as this has already passed scrutiny at the House of Representatives.

Drilon said bills referred in the Senate still need to be examined as part of checks and balances.

Senators Cynthia Villar and Pia Cayetano also said that bills for renationalization of hospitals should not be lumped with bills that only seek for upgrading or those that only intend to increase the bed capacity of hospitals.

Officials of Benguet and the BeGH management have long been clamoring for the renationalization of the hospital in a bid to improve its services, facilities and equipment, which requires bigger funding from the national government in order to be realized.

The late Benguet Rep. Nestor Fongwan Sr. first filed the bill for renationalization. In February 2020, caretaker Eric Yap refiled the bill and was approved in the House in June 2020.

Once under the national government, BeGH will increase its bed capacity to 400 from its current 200 beds, upgrade its services, equipment and facilities, increase the number of personnel, and increase salaries and benefits of personnel.

Built in 1971 under the supervision of the DOH, the BeGH started as a 50-bed hospital. In 1992, through a grant from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the building was transformed into a modern hospital building. In 1993, its management was devolved to the provincial government in accordance with the Local Government Code.

In 2004, the hospital was declared an “economic enterprise,” where income was supposed to be used to sustain its operation. But until now, the provincial government continue to allot P40 million annually as subsidy.

If under the DOH, officials of Benguet said that its annual subsidy will be used for the upgrading of district hospitals in the province.

If approved into law, the provincial government will continue to subsidize the hospital until its operational budget is included in the General Appropriations Act. The DOH will also issue implementing rules and regulations for the transition from the local to the national government in accordance with the hospital development framework. – Rimaliza A. Opiña