“For several months now, local movements all over the Philippines have been picketing local offices of the Department of Health to protest the Aquino administration’s drive to either sell off or corporatize 26 public hospitals.” – Gabriela
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – With their daily income hardly enough to feed the family, they could not afford to have anyone get sick, said Arlene Acabo, 42, a resident of Tatalon, Quezon City, said.
“Our health is among our top priorities, especially when it comes to my children. They are sickly. We live near a river so our home usually gets flooded. We are exposed to so many possible sicknesses,” Acabo said.
Acabo joined Gabriela, the country’s largest women’s group, in calling on President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III to look into the welfare of Filipino women in a recent protest action at the foot of Mendiola Bridge.
During the rally, one protester dramatized their plight when she lay down on a hospital stretcher with an intravenous drip. Gabriela, in its statement, described it as a portrayal of how Aquino’s policies are tormenting the Filipino people.
“For several months now, local movements all over the Philippines have been picketing local offices of the Department of Health to protest the Aquino administration’s drive to either sell off or corporatize 26 public hospitals, “ Gabriela said, “it will further worsen the bad state of women’s health.”
State of women’s health
Acobo said public hospitals are of great help to their families. Sometime in October last year, a dog bit her. She was brought to a nearby private hospital but was rejected when they said they could not afford to pay the down payment right away. Acobo could no longer remember how much it was but it was something that she and her husband, who works as a sewer in a garments factory and takes home only $70 a month, could not cough up in an hour or two.
“The check up was already worth $6 and it does not yet include the shots,” she said.
They moved to San Lazaro Hospital, a public hospital, and paid only $0.70 for the check up. The staff immediately cleaned her wound. Acobo bought the vaccines outside the hospital.
With the proposed privatization of public hospitals, Acobo wonders how poor Filipinos would be able to survive. “It is very scary to think about. Are we going to die without the benefit of being treated?” she said.
“If one of my children will get sick and there is no treatment available for us, what are we going to do? Should I just sit around and wait for them to die?” Acobo said.
“Health centers are hardly of use to us. When we go there at night, it is closed. If we go there in the morning, they only give us prescriptions but not medicines,” she added.
In a recent consultation on women’s health that Gabriela Women’s Party spearheaded, the group said they wanted to find out the real health situation of mothers and children from marginalized sectors. “We are putting our thumbs down to privatization, the phase out of charity wards and the abandonment of the government’s obligation to provide for the healthcare of women, children and families,” Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said.
Ilagan said Aquino’s proposed privatization of government hospitals will make it “extremely difficult for poor families to access health services,” which has resulted to the increasing mortality rates in the Philippines from 162 to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
“Women and children are dying of preventable illnesses because of lack of access to health services. This situation is expected to worsen with plans to phase out charity wards in public hospitals,” Gabriela Women’s Party said.
Poor health budget, Philhealth
Gabriela criticized the small budget allocated for the country’s health sector in the proposed 2013 budget. They said that the proposed $1.32 billion for the Department of Health falls short of the recommended budgetary allocation of 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product for public health, adding that it only represents a mere 1.89 percent of the country’s GDP.
“The Aquino administration’s intention to spend no more than P1.69 per Filipino in 2013 is tantamount to a systematic violation of people’s right to health,” Gabriela Rep. Emmi De Jesus said.
She added that health care has taken a backseat in the spending priorities of the government, which creates a “deadly condition for the poor.”
Gabriela also criticized the government spending of about $293 million for the distribution of Philhealth cards when “the same amount can be allocated to public hospitals, rural health units and barangay health centers so they can directly provide services to indigents for free,” Ilagan said.
She also raised suspicions that the plan to distribute Philhealth cards could be “used for electoral purposes.” Ilagan said, “With this budget, will incumbent candidates be giving out Philhealth cards as they did in 2004 and 2007?”
Gabriela vowed to move for the realignment of the Philhealth budget when the House of Representatives start their deliberations on the 2013 budget.
“To ensure women and children’s access to health services, a bigger budget must be allocated for the construction, rehabilitation and upgrading of facilities in barangay health centers, rural health units and government district hospitals, as well as the hiring and deployment of nurses and other healthcare professionals to the poorest communities,” she said.
The Aquino government also plans to phase out charity wards of government hospitals by next year. Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño filed a resolution before the House Committee on Health to investigate such plans. Casiño said “the phase-out will displace the poor and will make health further inaccessible to them, further disenfranchising them of the right to health.”
The law guarantees that government hospitals should allot 90 percent of beds to charity patients. But Casiño said only 80 percent or even less are allotted for charity wards while private hospitals allot only about 10 percent.
Casiño said the government could not even provide the necessary number of charity wards and “now they are claiming that by 2013 charity wards can be phased-out?”
He added that with the rate of government spending on health, “hospitals will continue to suffer shortages from insufficient manpower to empty pharmacies.”
Even Philhealth members, he said, are “forced to pay out-of-pocket because of the limited package and coverage of PhilHealth, not to mention the perennial lack of supplies, medicines, and equipment in government hospitals.”
PhilHealth-sponsored program covers only 5.2 million families.
“Replacing charity wards with ‘PhilHealth wards’ will displace the poor and will make health further inaccessible to them, further disenfranchising them of the right to health,” Casiño said.
Aside from Aquino’s health policy, Gabriela also scored Aquino for his “soured promises.”
“Filipino women pinpoint Aquino as the cause of the aggravated living conditions of womenfolk and the country, as we suffer from his cruel economic, political and social policies that cater only to foreign powers and their local puppets,” Joms Salvador, Gabriela deputy secretary, said.
Among the issues that Salvador pointed out is “Aquino’s currying favors to his American patron, US President Barack Obama with blatant offers of basing rights for nuclear ships and allowing bombing runs for stealth drones.”
“We condemn Aquino’s pronouncements to have American forces purported to defend our territorial claims over Spratlys. Besides being unconstitutional and illegal, this move will inflict disease and physical violence on our women and children,” Salvador said.
The women’s group asked, “What happened to the promises of Aquino during his presidential campaign,” citing his promise of a transparent government and relief from poverty.
Two years of the Aquino administration, Gabriela said, has only brought about “lingering high unemployment among women amid the prices of oil, basic goods, electricity, food and medicines keep going up.”