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Magalong: Lack of funding for contract renewal disrupts gov't contact tracing efforts

Contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong on Wednesday said the lack of funding for the contract renewal of the contract tracers is the “main issue” and the “big problem” that the government is currently facing.

“This is now the main issue and the big problem that is being faced by our contact tracing system. Wala pa pong pondo para sa renewal ng ating contact tracers (There are no available funds for the renewal of contracts of our contact tracers),” Magalong said during the House committee on health briefing on the COVID-19 situation in the country.

Magalong noted that the contract of contact tracers expired last June 30 and was only extended until July 30.

“[The Department of the Interior and Local Government] is doing its best to source funding para ma-extend ang ating [to extend our] remaining contact tracers until December and this is something very critical because of the threat of the Delta variant,” he added.

Currently, Magalong said there are 6,921 actual contact tracers hired by the government and they are targeting 56,303 tracers to join the contact tracing retraining program.

Aside from the funding issues, the contact tracing czar said the unfavorable weather, connectivity issues, and the imposition of community quarantines are among the issues they encountered.

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III confirmed Magalong’s concern, saying the DILG is asking the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) around P5 to P7 billion for the extension of the contracts.

“Naghahanap po at nakikiusap si Sec. [Eduardo] Año sa ating DBM para mangalap ng additional budget  para sa extension ng kontrata ng mga contact tracers. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali naghahanap po ng between ng P5 to P7 billion sa existing budget para po realign sa pagha-hire ng contact tracers,” he said.

(Sec. Año is appealing to the DBM for additional funds for the extension of contracts of our contact tracers. If I am not mistaken, he is asking for around P5 to P7 billion from our existing budget to be realigned for the hiring of contact tracers.)

With the enactment of Bayanihan To Recover As One Law or the Bayanihan 2 Act, Densing said around 50,000 contact tracers were hired and 30% of them were retained using the remaining funds from the said measure.

Densing also appealed to Congress to pass the proposed Bayanihan 3 Law to provide funding for the contact tracing system.

Furthermore, the DILG official asked the local government units to use their Local Development Funds to hire local contact tracers.

However, Cavite 5th District Rep. Dahlia Loyola, who pressed the DILG to address the issues in the contact tracing system of the government, told Densing that LGUs also face problem in its revenue collection.

“Sana may sense of urgency ang national government sa contact tracers kasi wala ng pera ang local government. Walang nagbabayad ng mga revenues ngayon, walang source of revenue halos na-exhaust na lahat [ng funds ng LGUs],” she said.

(We hope that there is a sense of urgency on the part of the national government when it comes to our contact tracers because the local government’s funds are already depleted. There’s no source of revenues because no one is paying their dues. All the funds were already exhausted.)

At the early part of his presentation, Magalong reported the “big improvements” in the contact tracing system in the country.

From 1:3 ratio at the start of the pandemic, Magalong said the contact tracing efficiency ratio standard is now at 1:15.

He said they lowered the ratio from 1:37 to 1:15 to adapt to operational issues, as well as the COVID-19 surges in the country.

An OCTA Research fellow earlier asked the LGUs to gear up for “intense” contact tracing with the entry of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant in the country.

On Tuesday, the Philippines reported 6,879 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the country's total case count to 1,612,541.

The Department of Health said nine out of 17 cities in the National Capital Region have recorded at least one case of Delta variant.—AOL, GMA News