On the CDC bill

Highlights of interview with Senator Pia S. Cayetano
On bills establishing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC)
Senate Recto Room, November 24, 2022

Question: What is your timeline for this bill (CDC)?

Senator Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): Maybe as early as next week. Mukhang prepared naman sila [resource persons] to have a [Technical Working Group, TWG] para maplantsa nang mas maayos ang bill. That’s the most important because once the bill is seamless, walang butas, I can sponsor it.

But I cannot sponsor a bill kung butas-butas. Like if we cannot resolve this issue on the Virology Institute and RITM [overlap in functions], ang hirap na i-defend yun na hindi rin ako clear. So we just need these things resolved, among a few other things. So far, it looks good.

Q: Can you expound more on the issue?

SPSC: Since last year, since the last Congress, Sen. Nancy Binay and I have been concerned about the creation of a new institute, which is the Virology and Vaccine Institute under DOST vs. supporting and giving more funding for [the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine]. Because clearly, they perform similar functions.

Ang ine-explain, and I would ask you to talk to some of the experts here, including [Director Dr. Celia C. Carlos] of RITM, the virology institute would include [study of viruses affecting] plants, animals, and humans. Ang focus ng RITM, I am told, is humans. So as I said, I support rightsizing. Kung ang RITM as we know it, [ay] end of life na siya, and ang important functions niya is parang maa-absorb sa CDC, okay lang sa akin yun, kasi kung ano naman ang mas efficient. We have to be able to move along with the times. So if we’re creating another institute, which is the recommendation, there’s another bill on the creation of the virology institute, then Sen. Nancy Binay and I are asking the question: why are we going to end the life of one, in this case, and then put up another one? So we just need more clarity on that.

Now, Dr. Carlos said that in other countries, it’s healthy, there is nothing wrong na you have different institutes that do their own thing but there may have been overlaps because they can do more research. Again, it’s okay. But do we have the funding to support that? Because from our experience, pagdating sa budget, may kakapusin. And RITM has historically always been underfunded. Nito na lang pandemic na, ‘ay may ganun, may RITM’? [The public got to know about RITM at the height of the pandemic.]

Pero in all humility, nung Chairman ako ng Committee on Health since 2004, we’ve supported it, but I did not get the kind of support I need to really be able to help RITM, ngayon na lang. Tapos ngayon na napansin sila, ililibing na sila.

But again, I am being very clear na I have no problem with rightsizing. Mag-rightsize ka, tapos mag-create ka ng bago, i-align natin yan.

Q: Isn’t it conflicting? Why don’t they just expand RITM’s mandate?

SPSC: That is exactly the question that Sen. Binay and I have asked, na hindi ba pwede i-support na lang si RITM, i-expand nga ang function niya? Is there something that prevents us from expanding their function? Kasi if they say na RITM only does this, sa humans lang, hindi pwede dagdagan imbes na mag-create ng bago?

And that’s why ang questions nga ni Sen. Binay include, so saan ang funding? Lilipat ba ng opisina, magke-create ng bagong funding? So I don’t believe, to be clear, I don’t have anything against the creation of a virology institute, for so long as it’s very clear that RITM or in whatever form it remains, is fully supported. And before that creation of a new institute happens, i-assess naman natin if pwede naman i-expand ang existing institute, which is RITM. Hindi pa naresolve ang question na yan as far as I am concerned and from what I know, as far as Sen. Binay is concerned.

Q: As a priority bill, in case it will be passed before Christmas break, will there be funding?

SPSC: Wala pa ako sinabing mapapasa ko. [laughs] Tinanong mo ako ng timeline, ang sinabi ko is ito ang hearing, TWG, tapos possible na ma-sponsor ko [in plenary]. Pero ang importanteng issues, I cannot tell you how long these will take kasi sa Senado, hinihimay talaga namin yan. Ayaw namin na papasa, tapos next year, next budget, magtitinginan kami na, ‘bakit ganun, hindi pala maliwanag’?

If you recall just now, nagsalita ang representative ng NDRRMC and meron din silang… nare-recruit or nae-encourage na volunteers din nila. So all of that has to be aligned now in the MRC or the new HEART bill [Health Emergency Auxiliary Reinforcement Team], yung Mandatory Reserve Corps, which is now yung health auxiliary volunteer service. It has to all be aligned so hindi pwede madaliin yan na hindi yan aligned. Inasmuch as gusto ko, there are only how many remaining session days? Realistic time check. I will try my best, pero realistically, if you want a good bill, don’t expect that it will happen in just a few days of session. Marami naman matalino sa Senate na hihimayin at pagagandahin pa ito.

Sa budget issue, ang comment mismo ng representative ng DBM is antayin pa nila ang details kasi they want to fully support it. Sabi ko nga, for sure naman mag-support ang DBM dahil it’s an administration bill. But I think for them to support it, they also need clarity from DOH and the other agencies kung ano talaga ang expense. Tama naman

Q: Will it be discussed in the bicam tomorrow?

SPSC: Hindi, I doubt it. I doubt it. But definitely, pwede sila mag-increase ng funding doon sa mga existing, [like] RITM. Hindi yata naman pwede mag-fund ng non-existing, bawal naman yun. But they can support the other existing agencies. From what I know. But I would suggest tanungin niyo din ang Chairman natin baka meron paraan na hindi ko rin alam.#

On the overlapping functions of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine [RITM] with the proposed Virology Institute, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said that the matter needs to be carefully assessed, with efficiency and the availability of funding in mind.

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