The recommended creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP), considered an urgent measure, gets a tentative P283 million outlay from the P 4.5 trillion proposed National Expenditure Program (NEP) approved by President Duterte last week.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and author of the bill, said HB 6793, which he filed May this year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposes the creation of the institute which will be the country’s research center for cures and preventative methods and products for viruses.
Salceda, who co-chairs the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee, said the budget allocation is “preliminary,” and that he will ask the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to clarify whether these are merely for capital expenses or include organizational costs.
“The estimate is that construction of facilities might take five years. If so, the organization should be established soon, so that we can already begin securing funding commitments and partnerships. By the time its facilities are ready, we can also get to work with research,” he said, adding that the institute also needs to start being integrated into industry development plans.
“Research and development is the future of the Philippine economy. We see much industry development potential in the virology institute. Abaca is apparently the best surgical mask filter. Virgin coconut oil apparently has therapeutic potentials for throat viruses. Our metals extractive industry could also see plenty of value-added potentials in it if used in virus-combatting technology. This could be game changing for many industries,” Salceda said.
“That’s why we need to get the organization ready now for planning, even when the facility is still under construction,” he said. Salceda, who is also principal author and first proponent of the creation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), added that he will push for funding for disease surveillance and research on communicable diseases.
HB 6096 was declared a priority measure by President Duterte during his State of the Nation Address in July.
“Even before COVID-19, we were already facing silent epidemics that also kill thousands of our countrymen. HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis are raging among our population. Polio has resurrected. My goodness, even diphtheria and cholera are back in some places. We have to do better with disease control and prevention,” Salceda stressed,
Disease surveillance for respiratory diseases under the NEP is funded with P51 million. Salceda says he will ask the DBM to identify how much is dedicated to non-respiratory infections.
“The non-viral infections are also deadly, but they’re not as visible in media, so they’re not tagged as crises even as they are serious national concerns. “For instance, TB has gotten so bad in the Philippines that countries like the United States require us to be TB-screened to get visas. We’re a global hotspot, and it’s a shame because we were once a global pioneer in fighting this disease,” Salceda explained.
“I will make sure the budget for disease control and prevention in general is there. This will also guarantee that resources are ready once the CDC gets approved,” he assured.
A known health advocate who has championed sin tax reform, reforms in PhilHealth, the Cheaper Medicines For All proposal, etc, Salceda was also recognized for notable health outcomes in his prior stint as Governor of Albay.
The Civil Service Commission once commended him for “reductions in maternal mortality ratio, infant mortality rate, tuberculosis mortality, incidence of sexually transmitted disease, dengue prevalence, lifestyle-related diseases, elimination of filariasis, rabies and leprosy, and death incidences in hospitals.”