“The Philippine Children’s Medical Center is a government hospital. The land it has been occupying is government land and the government is now asking us to pay for the land. Is that just?”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Wearing black, doctors, nurses and employees of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) joined the Million People March in Ayala, Makati, Oct. 4.
“We appeal to President Benigno Aquino III to donate the government land to PCMC,” Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, PCMC executive assistant, told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
The National Housing Authority (NHA) issued a notice to the PCMC stating that the latter must purchase the land it has been occupying for more than 30 years in the amount of P1.3 billion ($30.12 million).
“We cannot pay that amount,” Bunyi said. “The PCMC has only a P250-million ($5.79 million) budget for this year and we are spending it for medicines, services for our patients and salary of employees.” For 2014, the national government allotted P345 million ($7.99 million) for the children’s hospital.
Speaking before the crowd at Ayala, Dr. Sonia Gonzales of the PCMC said in Filipino, “As of now, we are still scouting where to find the money to pay the land. The PCMC is a government hospital. The land it has been occupying is government land and the government is now asking us to pay for the land. Is that just?”
The audience replied, “No.”
Gonzales said further, “We are counting on President Aquino to donate the land to PCMC.”
“The PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] is people’s money. It should go to health services,” Gonzales said further. “PDAF should be spent for the treatment of sick children.”
Annually, the PCMC treats 60,000 children, mostly from the poor. Bunyi said that 60 percent of their hospital-bed capacity is for poor patients. “Sometimes, we admit more than the bed capacity because there are too many patients going to the PCMC,” she said.
The remaining 40-percent paying patients could not subsidize the treatment of poor patients. “Most of the cases referred to the PCMC are special cases because the PCMC is a specialty hospital. These patients could not be admitted to a regular hospital,” Bunyi explained.
Still no resolution
Several lawmakers already filed a resolution in support of the PCMC. Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other legislators filed a resolution urging Aquino to issue a presidential proclamation to effect the land donation.
Last week, Malacañang said efforts are underway to keep the PCMC in its current location but did not comment about the call for land donation. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Department of Health (DOH) is working with other concerned agencies to solve the issue confronting the PCMC.
“Until now, there is no clear resolution yet,” Bunyi said. “But we are counting on the DOH.”
According to reports, Health Secretary Enrique Ona is waiting for the decision of the Department of Budget and Management or the Department of Finance as to where to source the funding for the PCMC.
Bunyi also called on the NHA to stop selling portions of land being used by the PCMC. According to a report, the NHA sold 2,500 square meters of the hospital land to the National Economic Development Authority’s Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) for over P83 million ($1.92 million).
“What is left for PCMC’s use is already small,” Bunyi said. “We also call on the possible buyers to consider their decision for the sake of the children.”
In a statement, the Alliance of Health Workers criticized the Aquino administration for “remaining blind and deaf to the people’s strong clamor for adequate public hospital and health budget. The AHW said that the government has been reducing the allotment for government hospitals based on its percentage from the total DOH budget, from 39 percent in 2009 to 21 percent for 2014.
The group deemed that chronic budget cuts for public service institutions like the hospitals have been part of the government’s grand design of privatization. “Currently, public-private partnership (PPP) being President Aquino government’s economic centerpiece essentially privatizes national agencies in the guise of partnership. So the ‘eviction’ of PCMC by a government agency, NHA is not going against the general economic plan of the government,” the AHW said.
The AHW added that the Aquino administration is likely to continue reducing government subsidy to government hospitals and increasing the role of private investors. “It is insidiously paving the way for the QC-CBD plans where skyscrapers and the business center will be established at the expense of the children’s government hospital and the urban poor community nearby,” the AHW said.