Abolition and MOOE budget cut raise alarm among ‘restive’ RITM workers


Health-care workers (HCWs) of Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) held a lunch break “noise barrage and die-in protest” on Monday to dramatize their protest over the P170-million cut on the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of their National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for budget year 2022.

“We, RITM health workers, did not receive the 100 percent budget from the DOH for our meal, accommodation and transportation benefit covering the period of September to December 2020 and from January to June 2021. We call on the attention of the DOH [Department of Health] and the Duterte government to release our much awaited meal, accommodation and transportation allowance now,” said Romeo Garcia, President, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers (RITMEA-AHW).

Garcia added that the DOH has not even allocated budget for the Covid-related benefits in the 2022 proposed DOH budget “while we are still in the state of health emergency.”

“This is a great insult and a clear abandonment of the DOH and this government to us who are at the forefront fighting this pandemic. DOH and the Duterte government are definitely not on our side to fulfill their mandate and protect us. This causes immense demoralization among our ranks. Many nurses and health workers have already resigned and filed for early retirement due to the government’s negligence,” Garcia stated.

The HCWs stressed that whenever the Philippines is experiencing an outbreak or pandemic, RITM is at the forefront acting as the vanguard and an expert institution mandated to provide immediate detection of infectious diseases through its laboratory and diagnostic services. Among the infectious outbreaks that RITM has addressed and managed to overcome are SARS, H1N1, Mers-Cov, Polio, Ebola and Measles.

For his part, Rodolfo Perez, vice president, RITMEA-AHW said that in this trying period of pandemic, they cannot fathom that despite the urgent need for a higher health budget, the government has even managed to reduce their hospital budget.

“The big cut in the MOOE of RITM as one of the National Reference Laboratory [NRL] in the country would cause a big negative impact especially that RITM is an expert laboratory for infectious and emerging diseases such as Ebola, Sars Cov 2 and the deadly coronavirus disease,” Perez said.

The group has expressed fears that the cutting of the MOOE budget for NRL is the government’s way of “preparing RITM’s abolition,” citing that the Duterte government is now railroading the bill through House Bill 9560, also known as the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (PCDC) Act.

HB 9560 states the amalgamation of various agencies within the DOH, such as Epidemiology Bureau, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), STD-AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory and Passive International Health Surveillance and Development of Communication Methods under the Bureau of Quarantine.

This means, they said, RITM and other agencies and bureaus will be abolished because they will now be under PCDC.

The creation of PCDC will result in widespread displacement, mass lay off and streamlining of health workers because eventually, RITM will be abolished. HB 9560 does not provide provisions for the continuation of medical services for the patients with infectious and tropical diseases, they added.

“If RITM is abolished, the number of hospitals catering and specializing in the treatment of infectious and tropical diseases will be reduced. What will happen to the displaced health workers then? And most importantly, where will the poor patients with tropical diseases go?” Perez said.

They also appealed to senators to increase health budget by allotting P2.064 trillion (10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product) to direct public health services and for Covid-19 response, restore the P170-million budget cut of RITM NRL, and to abolish of RITM, among others. Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco

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