Senatorial candidates urge budget priority for cheap cancer treatment

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — Senatorial candidates weighed in on how to source funds for cheaper cancer treatments in the country to address the needs of patients suffering from the illness.

Candidate and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay argued that the government already has the funds to provide affordable cancer treatment to Filipinos, as evidenced by instances of underspending, however, it needs to prioritize it in the budget.

"Laging may pera ang ating gobyerno [The government always has money] its a question on how you prioritize the problems of our government," he said during CNN Philippines' second senatorial forum.

In September 2018, Budget chief Ben Diokno reported backlog from the Health department's spending. Diokno said only less than ten percent was used from the DOH budget's allocation of P138 billion since 2008.

Former Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Raffy Alunan echoed Hilbay's sentiments, saying the government should give priority to universal healthcare in appropriating funds.

Alunan, a member of the Bagumbayan party, added that the government should also seek the means to generate more professionals to provide healthcare such as doctors and technicians to subsequently address cancer.

If he wins a seat in the Senate, Alunan said he would also seek to create "anti-cancer centers."

Meanwhile, former Senator Mar Roxas, who lost the presidential race to Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, said the funds should be sourced from taxes imposed on tobacco and alcohol products. He added that the government should also purchase cheaper medicine in bulk to sell them at lower prices locally.

"Dapat gamitin ng gobyerno 'yung kanyang buying power to purchase at lower prices…Mas mura kung maramihan kayo sa kakaunti na pagbili," Roxas said.

[Translation: The government should use its buying power to purchase at lower prices…It will be cheaper if there are more as opposed to buying fewer (medicine).]

Currently a 32.50 peso tax is imposed per cigarette pack. The House of Representatives recently approved a bill raising taxes on tobacco products by 2.50 pesos yearly starting 2020.

The bill also imposes a 22-percent tax rate on retail price per proof of distilled spirits, such as brandy and whisky, as well as a specific tax of P30 per liter. The tax will increase 5 pesos yearly until it reaches 45 pesos per liter in 2022. After this period, the specific tax will be raised by 7 percent yearly.

The Senate and the House also ratified the National Integrated Cancer Control bill in December last year, which aims to lessen the incidence of preventable cancer, decrease cancer mortality rate, make cancer treatment more affordable and support the reintegration of survivors to society. The bill will create an advisory tasked to oversee policies and issues related to cancer. A cancer assistance fund will also be managed by the DOH.