By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Under the scorching heat of the sun, Antonio Solayao, 55, did not mind holding a banner while shouting, “Do not profit from a basic service to the people!” in front of the Public-Private Partnership Center in Quezon City. Solayao, together with health workers and the urban poor storm the Public Private Partnership Center in Quezon City to protest against the sale of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), last Tuesday, Feb. 5.
After the pre-bid conference held last Jan. 25, nine big names in the real estate development and health industries signified their intention to bid for the Orthopedic Center. While the names of the bidders are still confidential, earlier reports revealed that business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of TV5, Smart Communications, PLDT, Metro Pacific Investment Corp. and Philex Mining to name a few, has announced that he will bid for the modernization of the Orthopedic Center.
The health workers, urban poor and patients vow to strongly oppose the said “modernization” of the POC reiterating that poor patients will be greatly affected. Salayao fears that once the POC is privatized, other government hospitals will be next. He lamented, “As it is, it is already very difficult to raise the money to avail of services in government hospitals, and now they will privatize it!” said Solayao.
The POC is the test case for the privatization of the Philippine health care delivery system. According to the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), once the 68-year old government hospital is privatized, or “corporatized” as the Department of Health likes to call it, other hospitals such as the San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and other 20 more hospitals will follow.
“Privatization will make health services a lucrative business for profit for big local and foreign private investors. In effect, this will deprive patients especially the poor of their right to health, which is the government’s responsibility,” Sean Velchez, president of the POC health workers union said.
According to Velchez, the formal bidding process of the POC will start on April or May. Awarding is targeted on October and construction of the hospital by next year. The project is a build-operate transfer scheme with a 25-year-contract. The winning bidder will build, finance and operate the Orthopedic Center and transfer it to the DOH when the contract ends.
Velchez said the administration of the Orthopedic Center has no plan regarding the employees when the sale of the Orthopedic Center pushes through. “We had a general staff meeting the other day and we raised our concern regarding our employment. However, the POC administration told us that it’s premature to bring up the matter. They just told us that we are misinformed,” Velchez said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
He said the POC administration is not even open for a dialogue with the union to talk about their plight. “They have no clear plan what will happen to us. They said we will be transferred to another government hospital; what if they transferred us to Mindanao or somewhere far from our homes and families?” He said the POC administration under Dr. Luisito R. Maano relies on Health Secretary Enrique Ona and undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa’s orders and would not listen to them.
Health workers are indignant over the sale of the Orthopedic Center and the privatization of public health services as a whole, said Velchez. He said that among the seven items for bidding is the provision of appropriate qualified staff. This will result in massive retrenchment.
Presidential deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte assured government health workers that they would not be displaced.
But health workers are not convinced, citing the massive contractualization of nurses and other health workers in government hospitals. Contractual or job order nurses and other health workers do not even receive their rightful salary and benefits. He said Ona is unconcerned about health workers’ welfare.
“His insensitivity to health workers’ welfare is unthinkable. We are at the forefront of health care delivery but he does not care for our welfare. He goes around the world peddling public hospitals to foreign investors at the expense of health workers and the Filipino people’s welfare. He has no place in a public service office,” said Velchez and called for the health secretary’s ouster.
The groups also warned not to be persuaded by politicians who have been using the health issue just to secure votes in the upcoming elections.
Velchez said they will expose politicians who are favoring the privatization of government hospitals.
Gloria Arellano, president of urban poor group Kadamay said while there are politicians who sell the benefits of being a PhilHealth member, she stressed that it is election season and that the people should not be blinded by the same old promises politicians are making in their campaign.
She slammed the government’s claim that PhilHealth’s No Balance Billing will make health services affordable. She said that in urban poor communities, many are not members of PhilHealth.
Arellano said all families in urban poor communities struggle each day to have food on the table and privatizing government hospitals will deprive them further of health services. Never has a family eaten three meals a day, she said.
“What is the government doing to us? Our houses are being demolished; we are being relocated to far flung areas where there is no livelihood. And now basic social services such as health are also being taken away from us,” Arellano said in the protest action adding that equality among the people will only be achieved in a government with a genuine social perspective.