Petitioners say the Supreme Court has the perfect opportunity here to give life to state’s constitutional mandate to promote the people’s right to health through the accessibility of affordable health care.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Poor patients, health workers and employees of Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) filed a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) at the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of privatization dubbed as modernization of the POC last Monday, Feb. 3.
“The bleeding and injured destitute patients in representation of themselves and in representation of all others to be similarly situated come now to the Court because they are being rushed to the emergency or operating room for profit by those who should have been taking care of them in the first place. They will be bled dry for commercial fees due to privatized health care by forces preying on their conditions,” said Edre U. Olalia, secretary general and head of the legal team from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
The poor patients include Daisy Joy Rojallo Cervantes, 37, diagnosed with old spinal cord injury. She is confined at the POC spinal ward since Nov. 22, 2013; Basilio Dayson Manjares, 57, also with spinal cord injury due to a motorcycle vehicular accident, has been confined at the POC since Dec. 15, 2006. Jay-R Medinilla Ladub, 31, also with spinal cord injury, has been confined at the POC since Nov. 15, 2012; and Armando Mamarin De Guzman, 52, diagnosed with grade IV pressure sore left inferior gluteal area and confined at POC since Jan. 17.
President Benigno S. Aquino III, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and Cosette Canilao, executive director of the Public-Private Partnership, were among the respondents. Also included as respondents are the Megawide Construction Corp. and World Citi Inc., the lone bidder for the POC modernization.
Megawide is partly owned by business tycoon Henry Sy. It is also behind the construction of the SM Development Corporation condominiums, Bellevue Hotel, Citysquare Residences and Hotel Kimberly in Tagaytay, among others. World Citi Inc., meanwhile, is operating what they call as Medical Hotel – World Citi Medical Center. The consortium is entitled to a contract to operate and maintain the hospital for 25 years under the build-operate-transfer scheme.
The petitioners raised the questions of constitutionality, procedural concerns and negative effects to poor patients and health workers once the POC is privatized.
“President Aquino and Health Secretary Ona are deaf to the peoples’ clamor to stop privatization. We hope the Supreme Court justices will have the heart and mind to listen and consider the people’s health and welfare,” said Sean Herbert Velchez, president of National Orthopedic Hospital Workers’ Union – Alliance of Health Workers (NOHWU-AHW), and one of the petitioners in the case.
Health as a right
The health workers of POC, patients and their relatives have been resisting the so-called modernization because of the likelihood that with privatization, not only their tenure is under threat, but also the peoples’ right to health.
Olalia said the SC petition involves the fundamental question of whether the right to health and other socio-economic rights are self-executory and legally demandable.
The petitioners invoke the government’s responsibility to provide and ensure a basic social service. The Petition states, “Such duty should not be relinquished to a private entity through privatization or commercialization of a government hospital to the prejudice of the poor and underprivileged.”
The petition also cited different international covenants stating the right to health is legally binding.
“The right to health is among those considered as a fundamental right. Thus, the right to health is one of those rights expressly mentioned in international covenants,” the petition read.
The petition cited the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where the Philippines is one of the signatories. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states, for one, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
The petition further said that the provisions in international covenants are reflected in the Philippine Constitution, citing Article II Section 15 that states: “The state shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instil health consciousness among them.” It cited also Article XIII Section 11 on Social Justice and Human Rights: “The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavour to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women and children. The State shall endeavour to provide free medical care to paupers.”
Health in exchange for wealth
“If one thinks that health can be exchanged for wealth, this Petition does not deserve the courts’ precious attention,” the petition’s prefatory statement reads. It adds, “But if one believes that wealth must be subordinated to health, especially of the dying destitute patients… then this Petition and what it is fighting for deserve more days in this Court.”
Olalia estimated that if the privatization of POC pushes through, it will lead to privatization of other government hospitals. “Should this happen this first time with the POC, then all the rest of the government hospitals or public health facilities and services all over the country will follow this route and the health of the people and their basic right to it and access to health services will be bludgeoned to smithereens. It would spell the death knell by adding insult to injury, as it were.”
The 700-bed capacity POC is the only government hospital in the country that specializes in bone diseases. The petition noted that the utilization rate is only 657 beds. Of these, 562 beds or 85 percent are allocated for service patients and only 95 beds or 15 percent are allocated for pay patients.
But in the new POC, as stated in the bid documents uploaded at the PPP Center website, only 70 beds will be allotted for indigent patients. Four hundred and twenty beds will be allotted for “PhilHealth-sponsored patients.”
If, for instance, the 70 beds will be occupied, the management of the new POC has an option not to accept another indigent patient. In Bid Bulletin No. 5: “Project Proponent is not under obligation to service patient beyond maximum utilization. For instance, if all 70 service beds are occupied and the hospital receives additional patients in the service category, the Project Proponent shall have the right to not accommodate them and instead transfer or refer them to another DOH operated facility.”
The petition also cited Bid Bulletin No. 9 stating that the cost of emergency and out-patient services under the privatized POC will be “market-driven and based on the judgment of the Project Proponent.”
First government hospital to be privatized under Aquino
Olalia said the petition for TRO is significant because the modernization of the POC is only the first in a series of other PPP projects to be implemented in the health sector.
“Definitely, this petition gives the Highest Court the perfect opportunity to give life to the constitutional mandate to the State to promote the people’s right to health through the accessibility of affordable health care. This is a challenge for the court to shoot down neo-liberal programs which will only worsen the already inept and ineffective health care system in the country,” he said.
In 2012, the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 6069 or “An Act Creating National Government Hospital Corporations” which will corporatize 26 government hospitals in the country.
Sugarcoating government’s abdication of health responsibility
“The privatization of the POC will deprive workers and the poor of health services, is part of the government’s abandonment of its responsibility to subsidize health services, and will further enrich big capitalists in the country. We condemn the Aquino government for trying to make it appear that the move will modernize the hospital while keeping its health services accessible to the poor,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU and one of the petitioners.
The petitioners vowed to continue protesting the privatization of POC and other public hospitals and health services.
“This is a struggle not only of POC health workers and patients but of the entire Filipino people. This is a struggle for our right to health,” said Jossel Ebesate, national president of Alliance of Health Workers and chief nurse in the Philippine General Hospital.
Petitioners include progressive health organizations headed by doctors and nurses from the Network Opposed to Privatization of Public Hospitals and Health Services, Council for Health and Development (CHD), Nars ng Bayan Community Health Nurses’ Association, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), Health Alliance for Human Rights (HAHR), People’s Health Movement; Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association (Compass); Head Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), leaders of citizens’ groups Makabayan, Gabriela, Kalipunan ng Damayan ng Mahihirap (Kadamay), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and congressmen from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list.