Press Release
May 2, 2009


Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero said yesterday that Malacanang should use part of its P9.8 billion "pork barrel" funds to beef up the country's health infrastructure against a possible breach of the swine flu virus into the country.

"No pun intended but using the palace's pork barrel is the best and fastest way to mobilize funds. It is not auto-immune from diversion to other uses, more so if it is to meet a possible national emergency. We should not wait until the swine flu virus transmogrifies into a disease without borders," he said.

"When the health of people is at stake, government shouldn't be scraping the bottom of the pork barrel for medicines but it should be scooping from its top. Let us make use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) now," Escudero said.

The senator issued the call after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase four to phase five because of the capacity of the virus to spread rapidly throughout the world. The latest WHO report says that 13 countries have officially reported 367 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection.

The US has reported 141 confirmed cases, including one death, while Mexico has reported 156 cases of infection, including nine deaths. Swine flu infections have also been reported in Austria, Canada, China's Hong Kong Administrative Region, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and Britain.

Escudero pointed out any improvements done in the health sector, through the use of the pork barrel funds, will still benefit the people even if the country remains insulated from the dreaded virus.

Escudero pointed out that about 500 people die out of the 500,000 people stricken yearly with the "ordinary, garden variety flu".

"Job manhours lost are staggering not to count the absences of students in school," he added.

The senator however cautioned the administration to make sure that the funds are spent wisely, and ensure that there is no overpricing in the procurement of medicines or in the upgrading of medical equipment or facilities. The infusion of PDAF funds can also be used to hire more doctors and nurses, he added.

Escudero said that using the fund against the swine flu threat should be in accordance with existing laws, like the Government Procurement Act.

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