“We hope our SC justices will open their minds and hearts to the difficulties and hardships of poor patients who are being victimized by privatization and other anti-health policies.” Alliance of Health Workers
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Side with the people.” This is the call of health workers, employees and patients of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) as they trooped in front of the Supreme Court on Monday, Feb. 24. Carrying banners that read “No to privatization of the POC!” They were joined by progressive groups in their call against the “modernization” of the POC.
Jossel Ebesate, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW,) said the SC is supposed to release its decision on their petition for Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) 10 days after they filed it on Feb. 3.
Instead, according to an article, on Wednesday, Feb. 19 after an en banc meeting, the high court issued a ruling ordering Malacañang and the Department of Health (DOH) to comment on the said petition.
“While we are glad that the high court started to act on our petition to stop the POC privatization, we are disappointed that it still did not issue the temporary restraining order (TRO), meaning the project will go on even if it threatens poor patients’ access to free services and health workers’ job security,” said Jossel Ebesate, national president of Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
Ebesate said that without the TRO, government officials like Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Undersecretary Ted Herbosa are emboldened to continue privatizing public hospitals and public health services. He cited the recent announcement of Ona regarding the 72 DOH retained hospitals throughout the country that are up for public-private partnerships.
The POC is the only tertiary government hospital in the Philippines that specializes in bone diseases and rehabilitation of bone injuries.
The modernization project of the POC was awarded on December last year to the consortium of Megawide Construction Corp. and World Citi Inc. The consortium was awarded the contract to operate and maintain the hospital for 25 years under the build-operate-transfer scheme.
Megawide is partly owned by business tycoon Henry Sy. It has also bagged other projects under the Public-Private Partnership projects of the governments such as the Phase One segments of the PPP School Infrastructure Projects (PSIP) and expansion and rehabilitation of the Mactan International Airport.
Patients, workers affected
The modernization of the POC is a matter of life and death for both the employees, health workers and the patients.
Corazon Yano, 52 has a patient named Domingo Marquez in the spinal ward of the POC who has been confined for 11 months. Yano said Marquez’s wife asked her to take care of him in the hospital because she needed to attend to her special child in the province.
Yano witnessed the struggles of the patients as well as their relatives who are taking care of theim in the spinal ward. “Almost all of the patients in the spinal ward are poor. Some of us are not able to eat three times a day because if we have money we spend it for our patient’s medicines,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview. She said to be able to eat, the ration of food for the patient is shared with the companion. Yano estimated there are 70 to 80 patients in the spinal ward.
Yano is with the group that trooped in front of the SC. “The POC is serving the poor and should not be privatized. What will happen to the poor patients? Will we just wander in the streets?” Yano said in her speech during the protest action.
She added, “Maybe one day poor patients will become squatters because all public hospitals are being privatized. What happened to the righteous path Mister President? We thought we are your boss, but is appears that we are not.”
Purita Fajardo, 59, is a nursing attendant of the POC for 38 years. She said the DOH has given them options on what they could do: one is to resign; two is to reapply in the new POC to be constructed at the National Kidney Transplant Institute compound in East Ave., Quezon City or stay but they will have to wait for reassignment in other government hospitals if a position will be vacated. Another option given to them is to apply for early retirement.
“Early retirement would be fine with me because this year I will be 60 years old. But how about the younger employees?” she told Bulatlat. “That is why we are asking the SC to order a TRO because the employees and the poor patients will be greatly affected by this so-called modernization of the POC,” Fajardo added.
Hear the patients’ plea
“Being the last bastion of democracy, we have faith in our Justices that they will hear and consider the peoples’ plea,” said Albert Pascual, community organizer of Kilos Bayan para sa Kalusugan. He reiterated that the 1987 Constitution mandates the government to make “essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost.”
“While we respect and abide by the legal processes, we hope our SC justices will open their minds and hearts to the difficulties and hardships of poor patients who are being victimized by privatization and other anti-health policies,” said Ebesate.
He added, “We hope that unlike the executive department led by President Benigno S. Aquino III and Secretary Ona, the justices will hear the plea of the suffering people.”